Overview

About Vaginal Cancer

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About Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the vagina.

Signs & Symptoms

These are signs of vaginal cancer:

  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstrual periods
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • A lump in the vagina
  • Pain when urinating
  • Constipation

Many other health problems can also cause these signs. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor as soon as possible.

Learn more about vaginal cancer from the National Cancer Institute. 

Image of the Female Reproductive System

anatomical drawing of the female reproductive system

Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.

Specialties & Treatments

The treatment or combination of treatments each patient has depends on the stage of the cancer, recommendations of the care team, and the patient’s wishes. These are the most common types of treatment for vaginal cancer:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Huntsman Cancer Institute’s Gynecologic Cancers Program provides comprehensive, compassionate, state-of-the-art care for cancers of the female reproductive organs. Our experts treat and diagnose all types of these cancers and conditions.

Learn more about types of cancer treatments.

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Causes & Risk Factors

Anything that increases your chance of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean you are sure to get cancer. It means your chances are higher than the average person’s. Talk with your doctor to learn more about your cancer risk.

The chance of getting vaginal cancer increases with age. These are other risk factors:

  • A personal history of vaginal cancer or other vaginal disease
  • A family history of vaginal cancer in a mother, daughter, or sister
  • Being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having been exposed to DES (a synthetic hormone given to women in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage) while in the mother’s womb
  • A history of abnormal cells in the cervix or uterus, or of having cervical or uterine cancer
  • Having had a hysterectomy due to health problems affecting the uterus

Learn more about ways to prevent cancer and about cancer screenings.

Diagnosis & Stages

Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer

Doctors use these tests to diagnose vaginal cancer:

  • Pelvic exam: A health care provider checks the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum for signs of cancer.
  • Pap test: A health care provider collects cells from the surface of the cervix and vagina so they can be viewed under a microscope to make sure they are normal.
  • Physical exam and history: A health care provider examines your body for signs of disease. Your personal health habits, past illnesses, and symptoms help guide the exam.
  • Biopsy or colposcopy: The health care provider removes cell or tissue samples so they can be viewed under a microscope to check for signs of cancer.

Stages of Vaginal Cancer

Cancer stages show whether cancer has spread within or around the vagina or to other parts of the body. Cancer spreads in the body in three ways: through tissue, the lymph system, or the blood.

These are the stages used for vaginal cancer:

  • Stage I: Cancer is found in the vaginal wall only.
  • Stage II: Cancer has spread through the wall of the vagina, but not to the wall of the pelvis.
  • Stage III: Cancer has spread to the wall of the pelvis.
  • Stage IV (IVA, IVB): Cancer may have spread to the bladder, rectum, or another part of the body away from the vagina, such as the lungs or bones.

When cancer spreads from where it started to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. These metastatic cancer cells are the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if vaginal cancer spreads to the bone, the cancer cells in the bone are actually vaginal cancer cells. The disease is metastatic vaginal cancer, not bone cancer.

Learn more about the stages of vaginal cancer from the National Cancer Institute.