Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer can often be cured in its early stages.

The vagina is a 3- to 4-inch tube, sometimes called the birth canal. There are several types of vaginal cancers. About 70 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers begin in the squamous cells that make up the epithelial lining of the vagina and are more common in the upper area of the vagina near the cervix.

Source: American Cancer Society

Risk factors

Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer. Only about 1 of every 1,100 women will develop this type of cancer in her lifetime.

  • It is more common in women 60 and older. 
  • You are also more likely to get it if you have had a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • If your mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) when she was pregnant, you are at increased risk. Doctors prescribed DES in the 1950s to prevent miscarriages. 
  • You are also at higher risk if you have had abnormal cells in the vagina, cervix or uterus.

Source: NIH: National Cancer Institute

Symptoms

Vaginal cancer often doesn't have early symptoms. However, see your doctor if you notice:

  • Bleeding that is not your period
  • A vaginal lump
  • Pelvic pain

Pap test can find abnormal cells that may be cancer. Vaginal cancer can often be cured in its early stages. Treatment might include surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have cancer. In fact, these symptoms are more likely to be caused by something besides cancer, like an infection. The only way to know for sure what’s causing these problems is to see a health care professional.

Learn more about risk factors, staging and treatment from the American Cancer Society.

Source: NIH: National Cancer Institute

Treatment

After the diagnostic tests are done, your cancer care team will recommend a treatment plan. If there’s anything you do not understand, ask to have it explained again. The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer and stage of the disease when it is diagnosed.

Factors that might play a part in choosing the best treatment plan include:

  • Your age
  • Your overall state of health
  • Whether you plan to have children, and other personal considerations

Vaginal cancer can affect your sex life and your ability to have children. These concerns should also be considered as you make treatment decisions. For more information, see Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer and Fertility and Women With Cancer.

Some treatments used only to treat pre-cancers of the vagina include:

  • Laser surgery (vaporization)
  • Topical treatments

For invasive vaginal cancer, there are three main treatments:

  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy

Invasive vaginal cancer is treated mainly with radiation therapy and surgery. Chemotherapy in combination with radiation might be used to treat advanced disease.

Source: American Cancer Society