Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer occurs when cancer cells form in the vagina. Your vagina, also called the birth canal, is the tube-like passage that connects the lower part of your uterus (cervix) to the outside of your body.

Occurring in about 4,800 women in the United States each year, vaginal cancer is one of the more rare gynecologic cancers. It’s mostly found in women over age 60.

The most common form of vaginal cancer, vaginal squamous cell carcinoma, grows in the lining of the vagina and generally develops over years. Other types of vaginal cancer originate in vaginal glands (adenocarcinoma), in the lower or outer portion of the vagina (a form of skin cancer called melanoma), or in the muscular wall of the vagina (sarcoma).

Our Premier Health board-certified gynecologic oncologists specialize in cancers of female reproductive organs and will guide you through every step of diagnosis, treatment, and follow-up care.

Detection and Prevention

Many vaginal cancers don’t produce symptoms until they’ve reached an advanced stage. Finding vaginal cancer early, when it’s most treatable, is your best defense.

HPV (human papillomavirus) Vaccine

Premier Health recommends that females and males 9 to 45 years old receive the HPV vaccine. The vaccine is most effective when given to girls and boys ages 11 to 12. At this age, the vaccine requires two doses. After age 15, three doses are required.

If you’re under 45 and have never been vaccinated for HPV, consider getting the vaccine after discussing with your health care provider.

The HPV vaccine prevents cervical cancer,  anal cancer, vaginal cancervulvar cancer,and anal and genital warts associated with certain HPV types. The vaccine may also reduce the risk of other HPV-related cancers, including mouth and throat cancers and penile cancer.

Your vaginal cancer risk may be higher if you:

  • Are 60 or older
  • Were exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth
  • Have an HPV infection
  • Have a history of abnormal cells in your cervix or cervical cancer
  • Have a history of abnormal cells in your uterus or uterine cancer
  • Have had a hysterectomy for health problems that affect the uterus

Vaginal cancer has symptoms such as bleeding, pain, and burning that are also common with a number of less serious conditions. Always report any concerning symptoms to your doctor.

The most common vaginal cancer symptoms are:

  • Vaginal 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
  • Constipation

Diagnosis

Vaginal cancer diagnosis involves a combination of investigative methods that help us understand your specific cancer and plan treatment. These may include pelvic exam, Pap test, tissue biopsy, and varied advanced imaging tools.

A tissue biopsy is a procedure that removes a small tissue sample from your vaginal area to check for cancer cells.

Treatment

We’ll consider the type, size, and stage of your vaginal cancer, plus your age and overall health, to recommend one or more of the following treatment strategies:

  • Surgery to remove the primary (main) cancer tumor or other tumors
  • Chemotherapy/radiation therapy to kill or stop the growth or spread of cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy/radiation therapy to prevent or delay your cancer's return
  • Symptom management for pain or other cancer-related symptoms

Surgery is the most common vaginal cancer treatment for cancers that have not metastasized (spread). Its purpose is to remove a tumor either through excision or by removing parts of the reproductive system such as the vaginal area or uterus (hysterectomy).

In some cases, we also may perform a lymphadenectomy, a surgery that removes lymph nodes to help reduce the spread of cancer. If your cancer is in the upper vagina, pelvic lymph nodes may be removed. If it’s in your lower vagina, lymph nodes in the groin may be removed.

Our board-certified gynecologic oncologists offer traditional surgery as well as advanced, minimally invasive surgical techniques, including robotic-assisted surgery.

For more advanced stages of cancer, surgery often is part of an effective treatment plan, along with continuously advancing medical therapies and/or radiation therapy – all highly customized to fight your specific cancer.

After vaginal cancer treatment, we’ll continue to monitor your recovery through follow-up exams and testing.

Keeping You Safe During COVID-19

You will find new safety measures in place when you schedule appointments and come to our facilities — all with the goal of keeping you safe as we care for you.

Contact Us

Our cancer team is here for you. Our cancer specialists have access to nationally recognized cancer care protocols and best practices, since Premier Health is a certified member of MD Anderson Cancer Network®, a program of MD Anderson Cancer Center. Our patients benefit from advanced local care backed by the world-renowned expertise of the nation’s leading cancer center. 

Call the Premier Health cancer hotline at (844) 316-HOPE(844) 316-4673 (4673), Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., to connect with a Premier Health cancer navigator.