Vaginal cancer


Vaginal cancer is an abnormal, uncontrolled growth of cells in the vagina. It’s a rare form of cancer, and it’s most commonly found in postmenopausal women over the age of 60. Common symptoms include abnormal vaginal bleeding, persistent vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain. Treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. In some cases, a combination of treatments may be recommended. Early diagnosis and proper treatment can improve the chance of a successful outcome.


The most common symptom of vaginal cancer is vaginal bleeding that is not normal for a woman’s menstrual cycle. This includes bleeding after menopause, or bleeding between periods or after sex that is not related to menstrual cycle. Other symptoms may include:

  • Pain during sex
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Vaginal discharge with a foul smell
  • Changes in bowel or bladder habits
  • Swelling or a lump in the vagina
  • Unusual bleeding or spotting
  • Itching or burning in the genital area
  • Pain in the legs, groin, or back
  • Unexplained weight loss


The exact cause of most vaginal cancers is unknown. However, some factors have been linked to an increased risk of developing vaginal cancer, including:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: HPV is a sexually transmitted virus that can lead to several cancers, including cervical and vaginal cancer.
  • A weakened immune system: Individuals with HIV or autoimmune diseases such as lupus may be more likely to develop vaginal cancer.
  • History of dysplasia: This is an abnormal change of cells in the vagina. Dysplasia can lead to vaginal cancer.
  • Being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES): DES is a synthetic form of the hormone estrogen. Long-term exposure to DES can increase a woman’s risk of developing vaginal cancer.
  • Smoking: Smoking has been linked to an increased risk of developing several types of cancer, including vaginal cancer.
  • Age: Vaginal cancer is more common in women over the age of 50.

Risk factors

The risk factors for vaginal cancer include:

  • A history of cervical cancer or pre-cancer
  • Being over the age of 50
  • Having Human Papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having been exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol)
  • Having a weakened immune system
  • Smoking
  • Having a family history of vaginal or cervical cancer
  • Having multiple sexual partners
  • Having a sexually transmitted infection


Vaginal cancer is typically diagnosed through a mix of a physical exam, Pap smear, biopsy, imaging tests, and other tests. During the physical exam a doctor will feel for lumps or other abnormalities in the vaginal area. A Pap smear may detect cancerous cells, which are then examined in a laboratory. A biopsy will be done to identify if abnormal cells are cancerous. Imaging tests like a MRI or CT scan may be used to look at the area closer and determine the stage of the cancer. Other tests such as an endocervical curettage, transvaginal ultrasound, blood tests, and urine tests may also be done to diagnose vaginal cancer.


Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that can affect the tissues of the vagina, vulva, and cervix. It is typically classified into four main subtypes, according to the type of cell from which the cancer began.

  1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This is the most common subtype of vaginal cancer, accounting for over 70% of all cases. It is characterized by abnormal growth of the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that line the vagina. SCC can spread to nearby organs, such as the bladder or rectum.
  2. Adenocarcinoma: This subtype of vaginal cancer is the second most common (around 20%), and is marked by the abnormal growth of glandular cells, which produce mucus and other secretions. This type of cancer is most often found in the upper vagina.
  3. Sarcoma: This is a rare subtype of vaginal cancer (about 5-10%), and is caused by the abnormal growth of muscle or connective tissue cells. Sarcomas are often found in the lower vagina.
  4. Melanoma: This form of vaginal cancer is even rarer than sarcoma, accounting for less than 2% of all cases. It is marked by the abnormal growth of melanocyte cells, which produce pigment and are usually found in the outer layers of the skin.


The treatment options for vaginal cancer depend on the stage of the cancer, the tumor type, and the patient’s overall health. Some of the most commonly used treatments for vaginal cancer include surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy.

Surgery is usually the first line of treatment for vaginal cancer. It can involve removing the cancerous tumor from the vagina, as well as any nearby lymph nodes that may have been affected by the cancer. If the cancer is more advanced, it may also involve removing part of the vagina and/or the cervix.

Radiation is typically used to help reduce the size of the tumor, as well as to help reduce the risk of the cancer spreading to other parts of the body. It may be used alone, or it may be used in combination with surgery.

Chemotherapy is often used in combination with radiation to help shrink the tumor and help prevent the cancer from spreading. It involves taking medications that help to kill or stop the growth of cancer cells.

Targeted drug therapy is another option for treating vaginal cancer. These types of medications work to block certain proteins that help to promote cancer cell growth.

Surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, and targeted drug therapy are all important components of treating vaginal cancer. Your doctor will be able to provide more information regarding treatment options and will help you decide which option is best for you.


  1. Stop smoking: Women who smoke are more likely to get vaginal cancer than those who don’t.
  2. Get the HPV vaccine: Human papillomavirus (HPV) can increase the risk of vaginal cancer. Getting the HPV vaccine when you are young can help prevent HPV, and the risk of developing vaginal cancer.
  3. Regular screenings: Women should undergo regular screenings and pelvic exams, especially if they are at increased risk due to family history or HPV infection.
  4. Limit your risk factors: Other risk factors, such as having an early sexual debut or having multiple sexual partners, can increase the risk of vaginal cancer. Limiting or avoiding these risk factors can help reduce the risk.

Gender differences?

Yes, there are gender-specific differences in the presentation and management of vaginal cancer. Women tend to experience a higher prevalence of vaginal cancer compared to men. Additionally, women tend to present with different symptoms than men, including bleeding after sexual intercourse, pain during urination, or chronic pelvic pain. Women may also experience vaginal discharge with an unpleasant odor, or they may notice changes in the appearance of the external genitalia.

When it comes to management of vaginal cancer, women tend to require more aggressive treatment plans than men. This is due to the fact that women are more likely to be diagnosed at an advanced stage of vaginal cancer. Furthermore, the earlier stages of vaginal cancer are harder to identify in women since their symptoms tend to be more subtle. Therefore, it is important for women to be aware of any changes in the vaginal area and to seek medical attention to get checked for any potential signs of cancer.


Nutrition plays a critical role in the management of vaginal cancer. Proper nutrition helps to maintain the body’s overall health, which is essential for fighting cancer. Eating healthy foods can help boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, and reduce the risk of certain cancers. Eating a balanced diet with plenty of fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains can also help maintain a healthy weight, which has been linked to a reduced risk of cancer. Additionally, women going through radiation may find their appetites reduced due to treatments, but it is important to maintain adequate nutrition during and after treatment. Adequate nutrition is also important for keeping up the strength to handle treatments and for improving recovery. In addition, certain nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, can help reduce inflammation, which can reduce the risk of cancer recurrence.

Physical Activity

Physical activity may play a role in reducing the risk of certain types of vaginal cancer. Being physically active may help to reduce the amount of excess body fat which can increase the risk of developing certain types of vaginal cancer. In addition, physical activity can help to reduce the levels of certain hormones like estrogen in the body which may also reduce the risk of developing certain types of vaginal cancer. Exercise can also help to improve the immune system, which may further reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer. Therefore, engaging in physical activity on a regular basis may help to reduce the risk of developing vaginal cancer.

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