Vaginal cancer

View original article on NHS Choices

Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that affects the vagina.

Some types of cancer, such as cervical cancer, can spread to the vagina. This page is about cancer that begins in the vagina.

Symptoms of vaginal cancer include:

  • vaginal bleeding after the menopause
  • bleeding after sex or pain during sex
  • smelly or bloodstained vaginal discharge
  • bleeding between periods
  • a lump or mass in or at the entrance to the vagina
  • an itch in your vagina that will not go away
  • pain when peeing, or needing to pee a lot

Vaginal cancer is rare, especially in women under 40.

If you have these symptoms, it's much more likely you have something less serious, such as an infection.

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See a GP if you think you might have symptoms of vaginal cancer.

It's unlikely you have it, but it's best to get checked so that any serious problems can be ruled out. You will not be wasting your doctor's time.

If it is cancer, getting diagnosed early can mean treatment is more likely to be effective.

The GP will ask about your symptoms and may ask to examine your vagina (a pelvic examination).

If they're not sure what the cause is, they may refer you to a specialist for further tests, such as:

  • another pelvic examination
  • a colposcopy, where a microscope is used to look inside your vagina and a small piece of tissue may be removed for testing (biopsy)
  • scans

The specialist will be able to tell you if you have cancer or something else. If it is cancer, they'll talk to you about what happens next.

If you have vaginal cancer, you'll see a team of specialists who will recommend the best treatment for you.

This will depend on things like how far the cancer has spread.

The main treatments for vaginal cancer are:

  • radiotherapy – radiation from an external machine or a temporary implant in your vagina is used to kill cancerous cells
  • surgery – this may involve just removing a small part of your vagina or it could mean your vagina needs to be completely removed and recreated; nearby tissue like your womb may also need to be removed (hysterectomy)
  • chemotherapy – medicine is used to relieve symptoms and kill cancerous cells if they've spread to other parts of your body

Ask your care team about what the different treatments involve and why they think a particular treatment is best for you.

Vaginal cancer can sometimes be cured if it's caught early. If a cure is not possible, treatment might help relieve the symptoms for several years.

Speak to your care team if you would like to know what the outlook is for you, as it varies from person to person.

You can also find general survival statistics for vaginal cancer on the Cancer Research UK website

Like cervical cancer, vaginal cancer is usually caused by infection with some types of the human papillomavirus (HPV).

The HPV vaccination, now routinely offered to 11- to 13-year-old girls and boys, helps prevent infection with the main types of HPV linked to cervical and vaginal cancer.

This can significantly reduce the risk of getting these cancers later in life.

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