What is vaginal cancer?

The vagina, referred to as the birth canal during labor and delivery, is the tubular structure leading from the cervix to the outside of the body. The most common types of vaginal cancer are squamous cell carcinomas, which start in the flat cells that line the vagina, and adenocarcinomas, which originate in the vagina’s glandular cells. Cancer of the vagina is very rare; it is diagnosed in approximately 2,300 women in the United States each year (Source: NCI).

The cause of vaginal cancer is not known, but some risk factors, such as being age 60 or older, fetal exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES, a drug used in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage), human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, and having a history of abnormal cervical cells or cervical cancer, increase the risk of developing it.

Early vaginal cancer may have no symptoms. Problems may develop such as abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding, pain with intercourse, pelvic pain, or a noticeable lump in the vagina. Sometimes, vaginal cancer may be found during a routine pelvic exam.

The treatment and prognosis of vaginal cancer depend on many factors, including your age, the location and size of the tumor, the type of cancer, the extent of spread, whether symptoms are present, and your overall state of health. Surgery, often followed by radiation therapy, is the most common treatment. Chemotherapy is occasionally used for surface treatment in very early cancers or used body-wide (systemically) for more advanced cancers.

The earlier vaginal cancer is identified and treated, the better its prognosis. Seek prompt medical care if you have any symptoms suggestive of vaginal cancer. Some complications of vaginal cancer can be severe or even life threatening. Seek immediate medical care (call 911)if you, or someone you are with, have symptoms such as excessive vaginal bleeding, bloody stool or urine, severe abdominal or pelvic pain, or the inability to have bowel movements or pass gas.

SYMPTOMS

What are the symptoms of vaginal cancer?

Symptoms do not always occur with early vaginal cancers. As the tumors grow, they may produce a discharge or start to bleed. A lump may be present in the vagina, and there may be pain or fullness in the pelvis or lower abdomen. You may experience pain during intercourse. As the cancer continues to advance, it may interfere with your bowel or bladder function.... Read more about vaginal cancersymptoms

CAUSES

What causes vaginal cancer?

The cause of vaginal cancer is not known. Squamous cell carcinomas occur most commonly in women age 60 or older, while the average age at diagnosis of adenocarcinomas is 19. You may have a higher risk of vaginal cancer if you have had cervical cancer or if you have a human papilloma virus (HPV) infection. Prenatal exposure to diethylstilbestrol, a drug that was used in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage, also seems to increase the risk of vaginal cancer.... Read more about vaginal cancercauses

TREATMENTS

How is vaginal cancer treated?

The goal of vaginal cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in your body, although it may recur later.... Read more about vaginal cancertreatments

Medical Reviewer: All content has been reviewed by board-certified physicians under the direction of Rich Klasco, M.D., FACEP. Last Annual Review Date: May 2, 2011 Copyright: © Copyright 2011 Health Grades, Inc. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced or reprinted without permission from Health Grades, Inc. Use of this information is governed by the HealthGrades User Agreement.