Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) causes two-thirds of the cases of vaginal cancer. Vaccines that protect against infection with HPV may reduce the risk of vaginal cancer. When found early, vaginal cancer can often be cured. Explore the links on this page to learn more about vaginal cancer treatment, research, and clinical trials.
Vaginal Cancer Treatment
- Vaginal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina.
- Age and being exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth affect a woman’s risk of vaginal cancer.
- Signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer include pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding.
- Tests that examine the vagina and other organs in the pelvis are used to detect (find) and diagnose vaginal cancer.
- Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
Vaginal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina.
The vagina is the canal leading from the cervix (the opening of uterus) to the outside of the body. At birth, a baby passes out of the body through the vagina (also called the birth canal).
Vaginal cancer is not common. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in the thin, flat cells lining the inside of the vagina. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs, liver, or bone. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer.
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular 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. A rare type of adenocarcinoma is linked to being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth. Adenocarcinomas that are not linked with being exposed to DES are most common in women after menopause.
Age and being exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth affect a woman’s risk of vaginal cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include the following:
- Being aged 60 or older.
- Being exposed to 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 vaginal cancer. Some of these women develop a rare form of vaginal cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
- Having human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
- Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or cervical cancer.
- Having a history of abnormal cells in the uterus or cancer of the uterus.
- Having had a hysterectomy for health problems that affect the uterus.
Signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer include pain or abnormal vaginal bleeding.
Vaginal cancer often does not cause early signs or symptoms. It may be found during a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. Signs and symptoms may be caused by vaginal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:
- 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.
In vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), abnormal cells are found in tissue lining the inside of the vagina.
These abnormal cells are not cancer. Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) is grouped based on how deep the abnormal cells are in the tissue lining the vagina:
- VAIN 1: Abnormal cells are found in the outermost one third of the tissue lining the vagina.
- VAIN 2: Abnormal cells are found in the outermost two-thirds of the tissue lining the vagina.
- VAIN 3: Abnormal cells are found in more than two-thirds of the tissue lining the vagina. When abnormal cells are found throughout the tissue lining, it is called carcinoma in situ.