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.

What are the symptoms?

It is rare to have symptoms if you have very early stage vaginal cancer or changes in the lining of the vagina called VAIN.  Early vaginal cancer may not cause any signs and symptoms.  

The most common symptoms of vaginal cancer are:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Blood-stained, watery vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse and pain
  • A lump or mass in your vagina that you or your doctor can feel
  • Problems with passing urine (such as blood in the urine, the need to pass urine frequently and the need to pass urine at night)
  • 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 have any of these symptoms listed above, particularly if:

  • They are not normal for you
  • They are persistent
  • There are repeated episodes
  • They do not go away

... be sure to visit your doctor for a check up.

Remember, most women with symptoms like these do not have cancer.  Your awareness of your symptoms if the first and most important step.


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
  • HPV infection

What is the treatment?


When you have a cervical screening test, the doctor or nurse does a routine examination of your vagina at the same time.  They can pick up precancerous conditions such as VAIN during this examination.  If you have treatment for VAIN, this can prevent vaginal cancer from developing.

The treatment for vaginal cancer depends on a number of factors, including your general health and the stage, grade and type of cancer.  Radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy may be used to treat vaginal cancer.  You may have one, or a combination of these treatments.  Doctors and Specialists will discuss and put together a treatment plan.

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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