- Cancer 101: Cancer Explained
- Guide to Breast Cancer
- Skin Cancer Risks
- Patient Comments: Vaginal Cancer - Risks and Causes
- Find a local Oncologist in your town
- Vaginal cancer facts*
- What is vaginal cancer?
- What are causes and risk factors for vaginal cancer?
- What are symptoms and signs of vaginal cancer?
- What tests are used to diagnose vaginal cancer?
- What is the prognosis for vaginal cancer?
- How is staging determined for vaginal cancer?
- What is the treatment for vaginal cancer?
- Treatment options by stage
- Treatment options for recurrent vaginal cancer
- Where can I find more information about vaginal cancer?
What is the prognosis for vaginal cancer?
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
- The stage of the cancer (whether it is in the vagina only or has spread to other areas).
- The size of the tumor.
- The grade of tumor cells (how different they are from normal cells).
- Where the cancer is within the vagina.
- Whether there are symptoms.
- The patient's age and general health.
- Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).
Treatment options depend on the following:
- The stage, size, and location of the cancer.
- Whether the tumor cells are squamous cell or adenocarcinoma.
- Whether the patient has a uterus or has had a hysterectomy.
- Whether the patient has had past radiation treatment to the pelvis.
How is staging determined for vaginal cancer?
After vaginal cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the vagina or to other parts of the body.
The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the vagina or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment. The following procedures may be used in the staging process:
- Biopsy: A biopsy may be done to find out if cancer has spread to the cervix. A sample of tissue is cut from the cervix and viewed under a microscope. A biopsy that removes only a small amount of tissue is usually done in the doctor's office. A woman may need to go to a hospital for a cone biopsy (removal of a larger, cone-shaped piece of tissue from the cervix and cervical canal). A biopsy of the vulva may also be done to see if cancer has spread there.
- Chest X-ray: An X-ray of the organs and bones inside the chest. An X-ray is a type of energy beam that can go through the body and onto film, making a picture of areas inside the body.
- Cystoscopy: A procedure to look inside the bladder and urethra to check for abnormal areas. A cystoscope is inserted through the urethra into the bladder. A cystoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue samples, which are checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
- Ureteroscopy: A procedure to look inside the ureters to check for abnormal areas. A ureteroscope is inserted through the bladder and into the ureters. A ureteroscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease. A ureteroscopy and cystoscopy may be done during the same procedure.
- Proctoscopy: A procedure to look inside the rectum to check for abnormal areas. A proctoscope is inserted through the rectum. A proctoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue to be checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
- CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an X-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
- MRI (magnetic resonance imaging): A procedure that uses a magnet, radio waves, and a computer to make a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body. This procedure is also called nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMRI).
- PET scan: A small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into a vein. Cancer cells use sugar differently than normal cells. A series of pictures are then taken looking for radioactivity usually in conjunction with a CT scan to define the extent of the vaginal cancer.
The following stages are used for vaginal cancer:
Stage 0 (carcinoma in situ)
In stage 0, squamous cell cancer is found in tissue lining the inside of the vagina. Stage 0 cancer is also called carcinoma in situ.
In stage I, cancer is found only in the vagina.
In stage II, cancer has spread from the vagina to the tissue around the vagina.
In stage III, cancer has spread from the vagina to the lymph nodes in the pelvis or groin, or to the pelvis, or both.
Stage IV is divided into stage IVA and stage IVB:
- Stage IVA: Cancer may have spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis or groin and has spread to one or both of the following areas:
- The lining of the bladder or rectum.
- Beyond the pelvis.
- Stage IVB: Cancer has spread to parts of the body that are not near the vagina, such as the lungs. Cancer may also have spread to distant lymph nodes.
Recurrent vaginal cancer
Recurrent vaginal cancer is cancer that has recurred (come back) after it has been treated. The cancer may come back in the vagina or in other parts of the body.