Expert vaginal cancer care focused on your needs.
What you need to know about vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer happens when malignant (cancerous) cells form in the vagina. Increasing age and exposure to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) before birth both affect a woman’s risk for the disease.
Vaginal cancers are rare, representing only about 1 percent of women’s genital cancers. Only about 5,000 women in the U.S. will be told they have vaginal cancer in each year.
The relative survival rate for all vaginal cancers after five years is about 50 percent. The rates vary depending on extent of the cancer.
Vaginal cancer symptoms
There are often no symptoms in the early stages of vaginal cancer, when the cancer is small and before it has spread. Most cases diagnosed in the early stages are found during routine pelvic exams or on a Pap test. Vaginal cancer in later stages may cause symptoms such as:
- Bleeding that's not related to menstrual periods
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- A lump or growth you can feel
- Vaginal bleeding after sex
- Pain during sex
- Pain when urinating
- Constant pain in the pelvis
- Back pain
- Swelling in the legs
Most of the time, these symptoms are caused by other health problems. But it's important to see your healthcare provider if you have any of these symptoms. Only a healthcare provider can tell if you have cancer.
Gynecological cancer experts
Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. We have a team of gynecological cancer specialists who work together to diagnose vaginal cancer, and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.
Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.
Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists.
Next steps after a vaginal cancer diagnosis
Being told you have cancer can be scary. You may have many questions. Know that you have people on your healthcare team who can help. At this point, you’ve likely had a physical exam and reviewed your health history with your provider. You may have also had a biopsy to confirm your diagnosis. Following a diagnosis of vaginal cancer, you may have more tests to help your doctor understand your cancer stage.
Cancer staging involves identifying where the cancer is located, if or where it has spread and if it is affecting other parts of your body. Knowing the stage allows your doctor to develop your personalized treatment plan.
Some tests your doctor may now recommend include:
- Chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI or positron emission tomography (PET): Imaging technology to look inside the body
- Cystoscopy, ureteroscopy, proctoscopy: Using a special instrument, the doctor looks for abnormal areas in the bladder and urethra, ureters and rectum. Tissue samples may be taken and checked under a microscope.
Customized treatment plans
Because each person and every cancer is different, your doctor uses your tests and exams to come up with an individual treatment plan. How long this takes depends on how complex your case is and your treatment goals. During this time, you build a relationship with your cancer doctors. You become a team for your care.
Open, honest communication can only benefit your relationship with your doctors. These tips can also help you get the most from this partnership:
- Prepare in advance: Write down your questions ahead of your visits. A few examples of smart questions:
- Why are we doing these tests?
- Why do you think this treatment is right?
- What side effects might this treatment cause?
- Find trustworthy resources: If you’re looking to learn more, rely on this website or sources your team recommends, so you can make decisions based on good information.
- Take a partner: Bringing a friend or family member to appointments can make you feel more confident and help you remember important details.
You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.