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  • Michael Frey, MD

Vaginal Cancer

Causes 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-like cells called squamous cells. This cancer is known as squamous cell carcinoma.

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



Exams and Tests In women with no symptoms, 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 cancer has spread include:

  • Chest x-ray

  • CT scan and MRI of the abdomen and pelvis

  • PET scan

  • Cystoscopy

  • Barium enema


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

Surgery is sometimes used to remove cancer if it is small and located at the upper part of the vagina. But most women are treated with radiation. If the tumor is cervical cancer that has spread to the vagina, radiation and chemotherapy are both given.


Support Groups You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems.

Outlook (Prognosis) Outlook for women with vaginal cancer depends on the stage of disease and the specific type of tumor.

Possible Complications Vaginal cancer may spread to other areas of the body. Complications can occur from radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.


Prevention The HPV vaccine is approved to help prevent cervical cancer. This vaccine may also decrease the risk of getting some other HPV-associated cancers, such as vaginal cancer. You can increase your chance of early detection by getting regular pelvic examinations and Pap smears.

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