Further tests after diagnosis

After being diagnosed with vulval cancer, you may have further tests to check your general health and find out whether the cancer has spread. Tests you may have include:

  • Blood tests – to check your general health
  • Chest x-ray – this checks your lungs and heart
  • CT (computerised tomography) scan – this uses x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture of the inside of your body
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan – this uses magnetism to build up a picture of your body
  • PET/CT (positron emission tomography) scan – this is combination of a CT scan and a PET scan which measures the activity of cells
  • EUA (examination under anaesthetic) – this allows the doctor to examine the vulva and surrounding area while you are under general anaesthetic.

Waiting for your test results can be difficult. It can help to talk about your worries with someone close to you.

Further tests for cancer of the vulva

If your vulval examination and biopsy show that you have cancer of the vulva, your doctor will arrange some more tests. These are to see whether the cancer has spread. They also help your doctor plan your treatment:

Blood tests

You may have blood samples taken to check your general health and how well your liver and kidneys are working. Sometimes, doctors will use specific blood tests to diagnose and monitor your cancer. We have more detailed information about having a blood test.

Chest X-ray

This uses X-rays to take a picture of your chest, to check your lungs and heart.

CT scan

A CT (computerised tomography) scan uses x-rays to build a three-dimensional picture of the inside of the body. You may be given either a drink or injection of dye. This is to make certain areas of the body show up more clearly. This scan takes around 30 minutes and is painless. We have more detailed information about having a CT scan.

MRI scan

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, such as a pacemaker, surgical clips, bone pins, etc. 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 can hear, and speak to, the person operating the scanner.

PET-CT scan

This is a combination of a CT scan, which takes a series of x-rays to build up a three-dimensional picture, and a positron emission tomography (PET) scan. A PET scan uses low-dose radiation to measure the activity of cells in different parts of the body.

PET-CT scans give more detailed information about the part of the body being scanned. You may have to travel to a specialist centre to have one. You can't eat for six hours before the scan, although you may be able to drink.

A mildly radioactive substance is injected into a vein, usually in your arm. The radiation dose used is very small. The scan is done after at least an hour’s wait. It usually takes 30–90 minutes. You should be able to go home after the scan.

Examination under anaesthetic

This is an examination of the vulva, done under a general anaesthetic. Your doctor will be able to examine you thoroughly, and check the extent of the cancer without causing you discomfort.

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