Vaginal Cancer

At a Glance

  • Vaginal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina, which is the canal leading from the cervix (the opening of uterus) to the outside of the body.
  • Carcinomas of the vagina are uncommon tumors comprising 1% to 2% of gynecologic malignancies.
  • They can be effectively treated, and when found in early stages, are often curable.

 

Types of Vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is not common. Estimated new cases and deaths from vaginal (and other female genital) cancer in the United States in 2010 are 2,300 and 780 respectively.
When found in early stages, vaginal cancer can often be cured. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. It is found most often in women aged 60 or older.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the vagina make and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. It is found most often in women aged 30 or younger.

 

Risk Factors

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include the following:

  • Being aged 60 or older.
  • Being exposed to Diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in the mother’s womb. In the 1950s, the drug DES was given to some pregnant women to prevent miscarriage (premature birth of a fetus that cannot survive). Women who were exposed to DES before birth have an increased risk of developing vaginal cancer. Some of these women develop a rare form of cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
  • Having human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or cervical cancer.

 

Symptoms

Possible signs of vaginal cancer include:

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