What is Vaginal Cancer?

The vagina is the narrow muscular canal that connects the cervix to the outside of the body. Cancer that originates in the vagina is very rare. When detected in its early stages it can be easily cured, however more advanced disease that has spread to other parts of the body is difficult to treat. According to the National Cancer Institute, the number of new cases of vaginal cancer estimated for 2020 is 6,230, with approximately 1,450 of those resulting in death. 

There are two main types of vaginal cancer:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. It is found most often in women aged 60 or older.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the vagina make and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. It is found most often in women aged 30 or younger.

Our Approach to Vaginal Cancer

At Roswell Park, we treat all gynecologic cancers with the same level of consideration, whether they are common and highly treatable or extremely rare and aggressive. Vaginal cancer may not present with symptoms in the early stages, so it may be mistaken for other conditions until it has become highly invasive. It is important to follow your doctor’s recommendations for routine pelvic exams, which can be used to identify vaginal cancer in the early stages.

Signs & Symptoms

The symptoms of vaginal cancer may be mistaken for other less serious conditions so it’s important to be evaluated by your physician if you are experiencing any of the symptoms listed below for an extended period:

  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstrual periods
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • A lump in the vagina