Most vaginal cancers occur when another cancer, such as cervical or endometrial cancer, spreads. This is called secondary vaginal cancer.

Cancer that starts in the vagina is called primary vaginal cancer. This type of cancer is rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. This cancer is known as squamous cell cancer. The other types are adenocarcinoma, melanoma, and sarcoma.

The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown. But a history of cervical cancer is common in women with squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina.

Most women with squamous cell cancer of the vagina are over 50.

Adenocarcinoma of the vagina usually affects younger women. The average age at which this cancer is diagnosed is 19. Women whose mothers took the medicine diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages during the first 3 months of pregnancy are more likely to develop vaginal adenocarcinoma.

Sarcoma of the vagina is a rare cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.

Vaginal Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of vaginal cancer can include any of the following:

  • Bleeding after having sex
  • Painless vaginal bleeding and discharge not due to normal period
  • Pain in the pelvis or vagina

Vaginal Cancer Diagnosis

In women with no symptoms, the cancer may be found during a routine pelvic exam and Pap smear.

Other tests to diagnose vaginal cancer include:

  • Biopsy
  • Colposcopy

Other tests that may be done to check if the cancer has spread include:

  • Chest x-ray
  • CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis

Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer and how far the disease has spread.

If you have vaginal cancer, our gynecologic oncologists will probably recommend chemotherapy and radiation. As always, our doctors work as part of an experienced multidisciplinary team, who discuss your case and decide on the most advanced, personalized treatment for you.