What is vaginal cancer?
There are two types of vaginal cancer: cancer that starts in the vagina (primary cancer) and cancer that has spread to the vagina (secondary cancer). There are several types of primary vaginal cancer. However, two main types make up about 85% of all cases:
- Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) – This is the most common type of cancer, affecting cells covering the surface of the vagina. It usually grows slowly over many years.
- Adenocarcinoma – A type of cancer that begins in the glandular cells lining the vagina. This type is more likely to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes.
Vaginal cancer symptoms
There are often no obvious symptoms of vaginal cancer. The cancer is sometimes found through a routine Pap smear. You may have one or more of the following symptoms:
- bloody vaginal discharge not related to your menstrual period, which may have an offensive or unusual odour
- pain during sexual intercourse
- bleeding after sexual intercourse
- pain in the pelvic area
- a lump in the vagina.
Some women also have bladder and bowel problems. You may have blood in your urine or feel the urge to pass urine frequently or during the night. Pain in the rectum can sometimes occur. If you have any symptoms, make an appointment with your GP.
Vaginal cancer statistics
- Cancer of the vagina is one of the rarest types of gynaecological cancer.
- Each year in Australia, approximately 70 women are diagnosed with vaginal cancer.
- Squamous cell carcinoma usually affects women aged 50–70.
- Adenocarcinoma is more likely to affect young women under 25, but it can also occur in other age groups.
The aim of this information is to help you understand about vaginal cancer. We cannot advise you about the best treatment for you. You need to discuss this with your doctors. However, we hope this information will answer some of your questions and help you think about the questions you would like to ask your doctors or other health carers.