Diagnosing vaginal cancer 

To help diagnose vaginal cancer, your GP will ask you about your symptoms and may carry out a physical examination.

They may also refer you for blood tests to rule out other causes of your symptoms, such as infection.

If your GP cannot find an obvious cause of your symptoms, they will probably refer you to a gynaecologist for further testing. A gynaecologist is a specialist in treating conditions of the female reproductive system.

If your GP refers you urgently because they think you have cancer, you have the right to be seen by a specialist within two weeks. Read more about NHS waiting times.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that GPs consider referring a woman who has an unexplained mass in or at the entrance to their vagina.

Seeing a gynaecologist

If you are referred to a gynaecologist, you may have:

  • external and internal vaginal examinations to look for any unusual lumps or swellings
  • colposcopy – an examination where a special instrument (colposcope) that acts like a magnifying glass is used to study your vagina in greater detail

If your gynaecologist thinks there may be abnormal tissue inside your vagina, a small sample of the tissue will be removed and checked under a microscope for cancerous cells. This is known as a biopsy.

If the results of the biopsy suggest you have cancer, you may have further tests to see if the cancer has spread.

These tests may include a more detailed internal vaginal examination carried out under general anaesthetic, X-rays, computerised tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans.


Healthcare professionals use a staging system to describe how far vaginal cancer has advanced.

  • stage 1 – the cancer has started to grow into the wall of the vagina
  • stage 2 – the cancer has begun to spread outside the vagina into the surrounding tissues
  • stage 3 – the cancer has spread into your pelvis and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes
  • stage 4a – the cancer has spread beyond your vagina and into organs such as your bladder or back passage (rectum)
  • stage 4b – the cancer has spread into organs further away, such as the lungs

The stage of your cancer is important in determining which treatment is most appropriate and whether a cure is possible. Generally, the lower the stage when cancer is diagnosed, the better the chance of a cure.

If a cure is not possible, treatment can still help relieve any symptoms and slow down the spread of the cancer. Read more about how vaginal cancer is treated.

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Page last reviewed: 05/02/2015

Next review due: 05/02/2017