Vaginal cancerOverview

Vaginal cancer is 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

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 itch in your vagina that won't 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.

When to see a GP

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 won't be wasting your doctor's time.

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

Tests and diagnosis

Your 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 can tell you if you have cancer or something else. If it is cancer, they'll talk to you about what happens next.

Treatments

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 cancer 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, and nearby tissue like your womb may need to be removed (hysterectomy)
  • chemotherapy – medicine is used to relieve symptoms and kill cancer 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.

Outlook

Vaginal cancer can sometimes be cured if it's caught early on. If a cure isn't 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.

Prevention

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

The HPV vaccination, now routinely offered to 11- to 13-year-old girls, 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.


More information

For more advice, information and support, see:

Page last reviewed: 22/01/2018
Next review due: 22/01/2021