Vaginal Cancer

What is vaginal cancer?

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. When found in early stages, it can often be cured. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. It is found most often in women aged 60 or older.
  • 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. It is found most often in women aged 30 or younger.

What are causes and risk factors for vaginal cancer?

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Age and exposure to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth affect a woman's risk of developing vaginal cancer.

Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. 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 developing vaginal cancer. Some of these women develop a rare form of cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
  • Having human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or cervical cancer.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/19/2014

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Vaginal Cancer - Risks and Causes Question: If known, what was the cause or your vaginal cancer? Did you have a known risk factor?
Vaginal Cancer - Signs and Symptoms Question: What were your signs and symptoms associated with vaginal cancer?
Vaginal Cancer - Diagnosis Question: Please discuss the tests and procedures you received that led to a diagnosis of vaginal cancer.
Vaginal Cancer - Treatment Question: What kinds of treatment, surgery, or medication did you receive for vaginal cancer?

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