In the UK, vaginal cancers, cancers that begin in the vagina, are rare. It is more common for cancer to begin in the cervix or the womb. Annually, around 300 women are diagnosed
with this form of cancer.Contact Us
What is Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer occurs when normal cells change and develop in an abnormal way or form a malignant tumour. When cancer cells develop within the vagina itself, it is known as Primary Vaginal Cancer. If it spreads from another part of the body for example, from the neck (cervix) or lining of the womb, it is known as Secondary Vaginal Cancer.
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There are two forms of vaginal cancer:
Squamous cell cancer, which is the most common form of vaginal cancer and arises mostly in the area of the vagina closest to the cervix. Squamous cell cancer is more common in women between 60-80 years of age and is often caused by the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV).
The other type of vaginal cancer is adenocarcinoma, which affects the glandular cells in the vagina and is more often found in younger women (30 years old or under). Adenocarcinoma has been linked with exposure to diethylstilboestrol (DES) a drug given to women between 1945 and the early 1970s at risk of miscarriage.
Other rare forms of vaginal cancer include:
- Small cell vaginal cancer
- Sarcoma of the vagina
- Melanoma of the vagina
The precise cause of vaginal cancer is not known but there are certain risk factors that can increase your chances of developing it:
- Age: usually women over 60.
- If you have never had children or been pregnant
- Human Papilloma Virus (HPV)
- Radiotherapy on the pelvis: radiotherapy in the pelvic area raises the risk slightly but it is still very rare.
- DES: A hormone drug called diethylstilboestrol (DES) causes one type of adenocarcinoma of the vagina and is linked to multi-generational cancers.
In early stage vaginal cancer you may not notice any signs or symptoms but as the disease develops you may notice:
- Pain during sex
- Bleeding, usually after sex
- Abnormal discharge
- Swelling or a lump
- Persistent itching
- Discomfort when passing water
- Pain in the back passage
Gynaecological cancer diagnosis, is contingent on what type of cancer is suspected. The varying methods of diagnosis are: pelvic examination, various imaging tests (such as a transvaginal ultrasound used to see the tissues in your womb) colposcopy exams, biopsies (a colposcopy, which allows a doctor to see inside the cervix and take tissue samples or dilatation and curettage, where samples of tissue from the inner lining of the womb are taken).
After confirmation, the stage of a cancer is then determined using scans and a treatment plan created (staging denotes how far a cancer has spread to local tissue or organs).