Vaginal Cancer

What is Vaginal Cancer?

Vaginal cancer is a rare disease in which malignant cancer cells form in the vagina.  Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of your vagina, which is sometimes called the birth canal.

A diagnosis of early-stage vaginal cancer has the best chance for a cure.  Vaginal cancer that spreads beyond the vagina is much more difficult to treat.

Symptoms

Early vaginal cancer may not cause any signs and symptoms.  As it progresses, vaginal cancer may cause signs and symptoms such as:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (after intercourse or after menopause)
  • Watery vaginal discharge
  • A lump or mass in your vagina
  • Difficulty or painful urination
  • Frequent urination
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area (the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones)
  • Pain in the back or legs
  • Constipation or abnormal bowel function

If you are concerned about any changes you experience, please talk to your doctor.

Risk factors

Factors that may increase your risk of vaginal cancer include:

  • Increasing age - your risk of vaginal cancer increases as you age.  Most women who are diagnosed with vaginal cancer are older than 60.
  • Atypical cells in the vagina called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia - being diagnosed with vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN 3) increases your risk of vaginal cancer.
  • Exposure to miscarriage prevention drug - if your mother took a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant in the 1950's you may have an increased risk of a certain type of vaginal cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.

Other risk factors that have been linked to an increased risk of vaginal cancer include:

  • Multiple sexual partners
  • Early age at first intercourse
  • Smoking
  • HIV infection

Prevention

There is no sure way to prevent vaginal cancer.  However, you may reduce your risk if you:

  • Undergo regular pelvic exams and Pap tests
  • Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine
  • Don't smoke
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