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If your vulval examination and biopsy show that you have cancer of the vulva, your doctor will do some of the following tests to see whether the cancer has spread and plan your treatment.
A sample of your blood is taken to check your general health, to count the number of blood cells in your blood (full blood count), and to see how well your kidneys and liver are working.
This is taken to check that your lungs and heart are healthy and to ensure that there’s no cancer in your lungs.
A CT scan takes a series of x-rays, which build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. The scan takes 10-30 minutes and is painless. It uses a small amount of radiation, which is very unlikely to harm you and will not harm anyone you come into contact with. You’ll be asked not to eat or drink for at least four hours before the scan.
Someone having a CT scan
View a large version of the illustration of someone having a CT scan|
You may be given a drink or injection of a dye, which allows particular areas to be seen more clearly. This may make you feel hot all over for a few minutes. It’s important to let your doctor know if you are allergic to iodine or have asthma, because you could have a more serious reaction to the injection.
You’ll probably be able to go home as soon as the scan is over.
This test uses magnetism to build up a detailed picture of areas of your body. The scanner is a powerful magnet, so you may be asked to complete and sign a checklist to make sure it’s safe for you. The checklist asks about any metal implants you may have, for example a pacemaker, surgical clips or bone pins. You should also tell your doctor if you’ve ever worked with metal or in the metal industry, as very tiny fragments of metal can sometimes lodge in the body. If you do have any metal in your body, it’s likely that you won’t be able to have an MRI scan. In this situation another type of scan can be used.
Before the scan you’ll be asked to remove any metal belongings, including jewellery. Some people are given an injection of dye into a vein in the arm, which doesn’t usually cause discomfort. This is called a contrast medium and can help the images from the scan to show up more clearly. During the test you’ll lie very still on a couch inside a long cylinder (tube) for about 30 minutes. It’s painless but can be slightly uncomfortable, and some people feel a bit claustrophobic. It’s also noisy, but you’ll be given earplugs or headphones. You’ll be able to hear and speak to the person operating the scanner.
This test may occasionally be used to show if the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes or elsewhere. A PET scan uses low-dose radioactive glucose (a type of sugar) to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body. A very small amount of the mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. Tumours normally absorb more of the glucose, and the radioactivity shows up on the scan.
PET scans aren’t available in all hospitals, so you may have to travel to another hospital to have one.
This is an examination of the vulva, carried out under a general anaesthetic. It allows the doctor to examine you thoroughly, to check the extent of the cancer without causing you any discomfort.
You’ll usually have additional tests to check the lymph nodes in your groin for cancer. We have more information about these tests|.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2011
Next planned review: 2013
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