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Vaginal Cancer

< Gynecologic Cancer

Vaginal Cancer

About 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.

Vaginal cancer is not common. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:


Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) 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. A rare type of adenocarcinoma is linked to being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth. Adenocarcinomas that are not linked with being exposed to DES are most common in women after menopause.

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, liver or bone. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer.


Vaginal cancer often does not cause early signs or symptoms. It may be found during a routine pelvic exam and Pap test. Signs and symptoms may be caused by vaginal cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A lump in the vagina
  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstrual periods
  • Constipation
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Pain when urinating

Risk Factors

Risk factors for vaginal cancer include the following:

  • Being aged 60 or older
  • Being exposed to DES (diethylstilbestrol) while in the mother's womb
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or cervical cancer
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the uterus or cancer of the uterus
  • Having a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Having had a hysterectomy for health problems that affect the uterus