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Cancer that forms in the tissues of the vagina (birth canal). The vagina leads from the cervix (the opening of the uterus) to the outside of the body. The most common type of vaginal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which starts in the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. Another type of vaginal cancer is adenocarcinoma, cancer that begins in glandular cells in the lining of 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).
Anatomy of the female reproductive system. The organs in the female reproductive system include the uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, and vagina. The uterus has a muscular outer layer called the myometrium and an inner lining called the endometrium.
Vaginal cancer is not common. There are various types of vaginal cancer.
Squamous cell vaginal cancer is the most common type of vaginal cancer. About 70 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers begin in the squamous cells that make up the epithelial lining (the thin, flat celled lining) of the vagina. These cancers are more common in the upper area of the vagina near the cervix. Squamous cell cancers of the vagina often develop slowly and usually stay near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs, liver, or bone.
Cancers that begin in glandular (secretory) cells are called adenocarcinomas. 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. About 15 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are adenocarcinomas. The usual type of vaginal adenocarcinoma typically develops in women older than 50. One type, called clear cell adenocarcinoma, occurs more often in young women who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero (when they were in their mother’s womb).
Melanomas develop from pigment-producing cells that give skin its color. These cancers usually are found on sun-exposed areas of the skin but can form in the vagina or other internal organs. About 9 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are melanomas. Melanoma tends to affect the lower or outer portion of the vagina. The tumours vary greatly in size, color, and growth pattern.
Sarcomas are cancers that begins in the cells of bones, muscles, or connective tissue. Up to 4 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are sarcomas. These cancers form deep in the wall of the vagina, not on its surface. There are several types of vaginal sarcomas. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of vaginal sarcoma. It’s most often found in children and is rare in adults. A sarcoma called leiomyosarcoma is seen more often in adults. It tends to occur in women older than 50.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn't mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include the following:
Vaginal cancer often does not cause early symptoms and may be found during a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. When symptoms occur, they may be caused by vaginal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following problems:
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Pelvic exam. A doctor or nurse inserts one or two lubricated, gloved fingers of one hand into the vagina and presses on the lower abdomen with the other hand. This is done to feel the size, shape, and position of the uterus and ovaries. The vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, and rectum are also checked.
Pap smear. A speculum is inserted into the vagina to widen it. Then, a brush is inserted into the vagina to collect cells from the cervix. The cells are checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) depends on the following:
When found in early stages, vaginal cancer can often be cured.
Treatment options depend on the following:
For more information on Vaginal Cancer click here
This link is to the National Cancer Institute (NCI) cancer website in the United States. There may be references to drugs and clinical trials that are not available here in Australia.
Information has also been sourced from cancer.org
Page last updated: 04/05/2020