Usually you begin by seeing your GP, who will do a vaginal examination.
If there is a chance you have vaginal cancer, you should be referred to a gynaecologic oncologist, who diagnoses and treats women with cancer of the reproductive organs.
Your doctor may also arrange for you to have a blood test and chest x-ray to check your general health.
The following tests are commonly used to help diagnose vaginal cancer.
Internal vaginal examination
At the hospital, the gynaecologic oncologist will do a full pelvic examination.
This will include examining the inside of your vagina to check for any lumps or swellings.
The doctor will also feel your groin and pelvic area to check for any swollen glands, and may also check your rectum.
You will have a Pap smear to check for cell changes in the vagina or cervix.
Your doctor or nurse will use an instrument called a speculum to open the vagina and see your cervix. Your doctor or nurse will then collect some cells from the cervix using a small brush or spatula. This may feel slightly uncomfortable, but in most cases it only takes a few minutes.
The cells are then sent to a laboratory where the cells are examined under a microscope for abnormalities. The results are usually available within two weeks.
If the cells taken in the smear test are abnormal, your doctor may ask you to have a colposcopy.
This is a closer examination of the vagina using a colposcope, which is a small low-powered microscope called a colposcope that allows the doctor or specialist nurse to see the vagina in more detail.
A colposcope looks like a pair of binoculars sitting on a large stand. It does not enter the body – the doctor inserts an instrument called a speculum into your vagina and then views a magnified picture of the vagina, cervix and vulva through the colposcope.
Some colposcopes are fitted with a camera, which is connected to a TV screen. This may allow you to watch what the doctor is doing. You should feel free to ask the doctor or nurse to explain what is happening.
A small sample of tissue will be taken from any abnormal areas and examined under a microscope.
Early cell changes (VAIN)
The tests may show early cell changes in the vagina, known as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia or VAIN. This is sometimes referred to as carcinoma in-situ.
VAIN is not cancer so the treatment for this condition is not the same as for cancer.