Vaginal Cancer Diagnosis: Right From the Start

  • Peter Frederick, MD, FACOG, is part of RPCI's team of vaginal cancer physicians dedicated to providing an accurate diagnosis.

At Roswell Park, we have some of the most advanced imaging tools and pathology resources available so that we get your diagnosis right from the start. 

Not all cancers are created equal. Each is comprised of cells that vary from cancer to cancer, and from individual to individual. And tumors may range in size, from millimeters to inches. Accurately identifying the extent of disease and the makeup of your cancer is imperative when determining the best possible approach to treatment. 

If you have a symptom that suggests vaginal cancer, your doctor may check general signs of health and may perform the following:

  • Pelvic exam: The doctor checks the vagina, uterus, bladder and rectum for any irregularities. To see the upper part of the vagina and the cervix, the doctor inserts an instrument called a speculum into the vagina.
  • Pap smear: A procedure to collect cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina. A piece of cotton, a brush, or a small wooden stick is used to gently scrape cells from the cervix and vagina. The cells are viewed under a microscope to find out if they are abnormal. 
  • Colposcopy: The doctor uses a colposcope to look at the vagina. The colposcope combines a bright light with a magnifying lens to make tissue easier to see. A colposcopy is usually done in the doctor's office or clinic.
  • Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues from the vagina and cervix so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer. If a Pap smear shows abnormal cells in the vagina, a biopsy may be done during a colposcopy. Depending on the results, additional tests and surgery may be necessary.

State-of-the-Art Imaging Technology

With some of the most advanced imaging tools at our fingertips, and physicians trained to maximize their potential, we consistently provide reliable diagnostic results. Quality imaging enables the Roswell Park medical team to develop the best treatment plan and helps the surgeon map the most direct and effective approach to remove an identified tumor.  

One of the more revolutionary imaging devices, the combined Positron Emission Tomography (PET)/Computed Tomography (CT) scanner is used to give a total-body overview of glucose (sugar) metabolism, which can reveal metabolic changes of cancer before anatomic abnormalities can be detected with conventional imaging tools such as stand-alone CT and ultrasound.

Special software is used to fuse PET images with CT scans, providing a union that is both functional and anatomic. PET-CT scans can differentiate malignant from benign tissue and can lead to early detection of recurring cancer. They can also grade tumors, define distant metastases, assist in treatment selection and evaluation.