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Alternative Names Return to topVaginal cancer; Cancer - vagina; Tumor - vaginal
Definition Return to top
A vaginal tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the vagina, a female reproductive organ.
Causes Return to top
Most cancerous vaginal tumors occur when another cancer, such as cervical or endometrial cancer, spreads. This is called secondary vaginal cancer.
Primary vaginal cancer is very rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. The rest are adenocarcinoma (6%), melanoma (3%), and sarcoma (3%).
The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown. However, up to 30% of patients have had cervical cancer.
About 75% of patients with squamous cell cancer of the vagina are over 50. Adenocarcinomas of the vagina more commonly affect younger women. The average age at which adenocarcinoma of the vagina is diagnosed is 19.
Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the first 3 months of pregnancy are at increased risk for developing adenocarcinoma.
Sarcoma botryoides of the vagina is a rare type of cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.
Symptoms Return to top
About 5 - 10% of patients have no symptoms.
Exams and Tests Return to top
In patients with no symptoms, the cancer may be found during a routine pelvic examination and Pap smear.
Other tests to diagnose vaginal tumors include:
If a Pap smear is abnormal but the health care provider cannot see problems with the vagina during a pelvic exam, a colposcopy may be done.
Other tests that may be done include:
Treatment Return to top
Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer, and how far the disease has spread.
Surgery is sometimes used to remove the cancer, but most patients are treated with radiation. If the tumor is cervical cancer that has spread to the vagina, then radiation and chemotherapy are both given.
Sarcoma botryoides may be treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
Support Groups Return to top
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems. You can find these support groups by searching the Internet or contacting the American Cancer Society.
Outlook (Prognosis) Return to top
How well patients with vaginal cancer do depends on the stage of disease and the type of tumor.
Possible Complications Return to top
Vaginal cancer may spread to other areas of the body. Complications can occur from radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.
When to Contact a Medical Professional Return to top
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you notice bleeding after intercourse or have persistent vaginal bleeding or discharge.
Prevention Return to top
There are no definite ways to prevent this cancer. You can increase your chances of early detection by getting regular yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears.
References Return to top
Dotters DJ, Katz VL. Malignant diseases of the vagina: intraepithelial neoplasia, carcinoma, sarcoma. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM. Katz: Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby;2007:chap 31.Update Date: 6/10/2008 Updated by: David C. Dugdale, III, MD, Professor of Medicine, Division of General Medicine, Department of Medicine, University of Washington School of Medicine; and James R. Mason, MD, Oncologist, Director, Blood and Marrow Transplantation Program and Stem Cell Processing Lab, Scripps Clinic, Torrey Pines, California. Also reviewed byDavid Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.