Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is rare, and women may experience few symptoms or no symptoms during early stages. But vaginal cancer can be detected easily during routine checkups. That’s why it is important to have regular physical exams. Ask your provider about how often you should get a pelvic exam or pap tests.

What is vaginal cancer?

The vagina, or the birth canal, is a tube-like structure in the pelvic area. The vaginal lining is made of squamous and epithelial cells. Sometimes these cells can become cancerous. Vaginal cancer can affect the cells that line and make up the vagina. There are many types of vaginal cancers:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma

  • Adenocarcinoma

  • Melanoma- cancerous cells

  • Sarcoma- cancerous cells in bones, muscle, or connective tissue    

Vaginal Cancer Risks

Women over 60 have increased vaginal cancer risk Anyone can get vaginal cancer, but most often older adults are diagnosed. Many things can put women at risk for vaginal cancer, including having had:

  • Cervical or uterine cancer

  • Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth

  • HPV, the human papilloma virus

  • Hysterectomy

  • A history of abnormal cells in the cervix or uterus

Vaginal Cancer Symptoms

Pelvic Pain May Be a Sign of Vaginal Cancer

Check with your doctor if you experience:

  • Non-menstrual bleeding or discharge

  • Pain in the pelvic area

  • Pain while urinating

  • Pain during sexual intercourse

  • A lump in the vagina

  • Constipation

Vaginal Cancer Diagnosis

Routine screening can help diagnose vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is often found during routine pap tests or pelvic exams. To catch vaginal cancer early, be sure to call your provider and have necessary exams.

Vaginal cancer symptoms do not always show up.

Vaginal cancer symptoms do not always show up right away. Many people can get diagnosed without experiencing any signs of vaginal cancer. An early diagnosis is the key to increasing the success of treatment.    

Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Vaginal cancer can be cured if found early

Treating vaginal cancer depends on the age and overall health of the patient, characteristics of the cancer, and other health conditions. Surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy can help treat the cancer. Some patients may choose clinical trials to access new cancer-fighting drugs and treatment options.

Vaginal cancer surgery types include:

  • Removing tumors on the vagina surface and healthy tissue around the tumor;

  • Vaginectomy, which involves taking out part or all of the vagina;

  • Pelvic exenteration, or surgically removing the pelvic organs.

Complete OB/GYN care

MaineHealth provides obstetrics and gynecology services at doctor’s offices, specialty clinics and community hospitals. The OB-GYNs at MaineHealth provide women’s reproductive care that is skilled and compassionate.
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