Vaginal cancer is cancer of the vagina, a female reproductive organ.
Cancer that starts in the vagina is called primary vaginal cancer. This type of cancer is rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. This cancer is known as squamous cell cancer. The other types are adenocarcinoma, melanoma, and sarcoma.
The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown. But a history of cervical cancer is common in women with squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina.
Most women with squamous cell cancer of the vagina are over 50.
Adenocarcinoma of the vagina usually affects younger women. The average age at which this cancer is diagnosed is 19. Women whose mothers took the medicine diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages during the first 3 months of pregnancy are more likely to develop vaginal adenocarcinoma.
Sarcoma of the vagina is a rare cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.
Symptoms of vaginal cancer can include any of the following:
- Bleeding after having sex
- Painless vaginal bleeding and discharge not due to normal period
- Pain in the pelvis or vagina
Some women have no symptoms.
Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far the disease has spread.
Sarcoma may be treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.
Outlook for women with vaginal cancer depends on the stage of disease and the specific type of tumor.
Vaginal cancer may spread to other areas of the body. Complications can occur from radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you notice bleeding after sex or have persistent vaginal bleeding or discharge.
There are no definite ways to prevent this cancer. You can increase your chance of early detection by getting regular yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears.
Vaginal cancer; Cancer - vagina; Tumor - vaginal
Hacker NF. Vulvar and vaginal cancer. In: Hacker NF, Gambone JC, Hobel CJ, eds. Hacker and Moore's Essentials of Obstetrics and Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier; 2016:chap 40.
Jhingran A, Russell AH, Seiden MV, et al. Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 87.
National Cancer Institute. PDQ vaginal cancer treatment. Bethesda, MD: National Cancer Institute. Updated February 9, 2016. cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/vaginal/HealthProfessional. Accessed March 17, 2016.
Update Date 2/12/2016
Updated by: Todd Gersten, MD, Hematology/Oncology, Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute, Wellington, FL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.