Cancer type:

Vaginal Cancer

  • Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that begins in the vagina
  • Only about 300 women get diagnosed with it each year in the UK
  • It can happen to women of all ages but is most common after the menopause
  • The risks of developing vaginal cancer increase with age, with cases starting at typically over 60
  • The earlier the intervention the better the outcome
  • The HPV virus can be a factor and routine vaccinations can only reduce the risks further
  • The most common symptom of vaginal cancer is abnormal bleeding from the vagina
  • These symptoms include bleeding between your normal periods, after sex or bleeding after the menopause
  • See your GP if you experience any abnormal vaginal bleeding or changes in your usual pattern of periods
  • The main treatments for vaginal cancer are surgery to remove the cancerous cells, radiotherapy and chemotherapy
  • Around 6 in every 10 women with vaginal cancer will live for at least five years after diagnosis
  • Around 110 women die from vaginal cancer every year in the UK.
  • Unfortunately the risks of vaginal cancer increase with both age and after the menopause
  • Vaginal cancer often doesn’t present until a woman reaches their 60’s
  • It is not possible to screen for vaginal cancer so it’s absolutely vital you are aware of the symptoms
  • The most common symptom of vaginal cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • This includes bleeding between your normal periods, after sex or bleeding after the menopause
  • Other symptoms with potential risks can include a smelly or bloody vaginal discharge and pain during sex
  • A previous history of abnormal cells in the vagina or cervix may increase your risks
  • Also look out for needing to urinate more frequently, blood in your urine and pain when urinating
  • Vaginal cancer may also include pelvic pain and an itch or lump in your vagina
  • If you are concerned by any of these issues then see your GP
  • If you experience any abnormal vaginal bleeding or changes in your usual pattern of periods see your GP
  • Your GP will ask about symptoms, and may carry out a physical examination and arrange blood tests
  • Because there is no screening test for vaginal cancer, picking up on symptoms early is vital
  • The main symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, between your normal periods, or after sex or the menopause
  • Women who have had radiotherapy to the pelvis may have a slightly increased risk of vaginal cancer
  • As there is a link with HPV, you can reduce your risks of vaginal cancer by practising safe sex
  • As well as the many other symptoms listed under Reducing your risks are constipation and swelling in the legs
  • If you are concerned by any of the above symptoms then see your GP
  • It's unlikely you have cancer, but it's best to check. Your GP can refer you to a consultant
  • The consultant will ask about your symptoms and any other illnesses or health problems you have had
  • They will usually examine the inside of your vagina to check for any lumps or swellings
  • They may perform a test called liquid-based cytology, which is the same test used for cervical screening
  • A Colposcopy is sometimes used to look at the vagina in detail using a microscope with a light
  • The doctor may take a small sample of tissue (a biopsy) from any area that looks abnormal
  • Treatment for vaginal cancer will depend on where the cancer is in your vagina and how far it has spread
  • You will be referred to a multidisciplinary team (MDT), including an entire range of specialists
  • Your MDT will recommend a treatment plan they feel is most suitable for you, but the final decision is yours
  • Before going to hospital to discuss your treatment options, it’s useful to write down a list of questions
  • For example, you may want to know the advantages and disadvantages of particular treatments
  • For vaginal cancer, radiotherapy is the main initial treatment to cure the cancer
  • Radiotherapy is also used in combination with chemotherapy, and after surgery to prevent the cancer returning
  • Even if the cancer is terminal, radiotherapy is used to control the symptoms, known as palliative radiotherapy
  • Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer can be given either externally or internally
  • With external radiotherapy a machine beams high-energy rays at your vagina and pelvis
  • With internal radiotherapy a small tampon-shaped radioactive device is inserted into your vagina
  • Radiotherapy damages healthy cells as well as destroying cancerous ones so there are lots of unpleasant side-effects
Download Vaginal Cancer Factsheet

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