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Gynaecologic Problems: Vaginal Cancer


Cancer of the vagina , a rare kind of cancer in women, is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the vagina. There are several types of cancer of the vagina. The two most common are:

  • Squamous cell cancer (squamous carcinoma). Squamous carcinoma is most often found in women between the ages of 60 and 80, and accounts for 85-90 % of all vaginal cancers.
  • Adenocarcinoma . Adenocarcinoma is more often found in women between the ages of 12 and 30, and accounts for 5-10 % of all vaginal cancers.
  • A rare form of cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma results from the use of the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) given to pregnant women between 1945 and 1970 to keep them from miscarrying.

Other types of vaginal cancer include:

  • Malignant melanoma .
  • Leiomyosarcoma .
  • Rhabdomyosarcoma .

For information on the other main cancers to affect the female reproductive system go here .

Risk Factors

What are risk factors for vaginal cancer?
The following have been suggested as risk factors for vaginal cancer:

  • 40 % of women are older than 60, with most between ages 50 and 70.
  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) as a foetus (mother took DES during pregnancy).
  • Vaginal adenosis.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
  • history of cervical cancer .
  • History of cervical precancerous conditions.
  • Vaginal irritation.
  • Uterine prolapse.

Symptoms and Signs

There are a number of benign conditions that can produce similar symptoms as vaginal cancer. Consult your physician for a diagnosis if you experience any/all of the following.

  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstrual periods .
  • Difficult or painful urination.
  • Pain during intercourse.
  • Pain in the pelvic area.
  • Constipation.
  • A mass that can be felt.

Even if a woman has had a hysterectomy, she still has a chance of developing vaginal cancer.

Diagnosis and Treatment

There are several tests used to diagnose vaginal cancer, including:

Generally, there are three kinds of treatment available for patients with cancerous or precancerous conditions of the vagina:

  • Surgery , including: Laser surgery to remove the cancer, including LEEP (loop electroexcision procedure) and a local excision to remove the cancer, vaginectomy (partial) to remove the vagina.
  • Chemotherapy (topical).
  • Radiation therapy .

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s):
1. Motherisk, The Hospital for Sick Children:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Cancer in women
    From HONselect
     (def;articles & more)   



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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002