Vaginal Cancer

This rare type of cancer affects the vagina, a tube-like organ that connects the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) to the vulva (the outer female genitals).

There are two main types of vaginal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, in which the cancer forms in the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the vagina
  • Adenocarcinoma, in which the cancer begins in the glandular cells

Melanoma and sarcoma are two more rare types of vaginal cancer.

Causes of Vaginal Cancer

While the exact cause of vaginal cancer is unknown, there are certain risk factors that can make you more likely to develop vaginal cancer. These include:

  • Being 60 or older
  • Having human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having been infected with herpes simplex virus
  • Being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in your mother's womb (this is linked to an extremely rare form of vaginal cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma)
  • Having had a hysterectomy for tumors that were benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous)
  • Having had cancer of the cervix
  • Smoking

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

Unfortunately, vaginal cancer often has no noticeable symptoms, so the disease will likely become more advanced before being diagnosed. In some cases, though, women with vaginal cancer may experience:

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

Diagnosis for Vaginal Cancer

Various tests can be done to examine the vagina and other organs in the pelvis in order to accurately diagnose vaginal cancer, including:

  • A pelvic exam
  • A Pap test
  • Colposcopy
  • Biopsy

Treatments for Vaginal Cancer

Different types of treatments are available for patients with vaginal cancer; the right treatment will depend on factors such as the type of cell, the stage of cancer (how advanced it is) and the patient’s age.

Standard treatment options include:

  • Surgery
  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy

Some patients may be candidates for clinical trials involving immunotherapy and radio sensitizers.