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Formerly known as California Oncology of the Central Valley Request an Appointment
Translate this page: EnglishEspañol
Formerly known as California Oncology of the Central Valley Request an Appointment

Vaginal Cancer

What Is Vaginal Cancer?

The vagina, also known as the birth canal, is a short tube that connects the vulva to the cervix. Vaginal cancer develops when cells in the vagina grow out of control.

Diagram of the female reproductive system

Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) are a significant risk factor for vaginal squamous cell carcinoma, as is having a diagnosis of cervical cancer, which is also caused by HPV. These risk factors necessitate more frequent tests and screenings.

Types of Vaginal Cancer

As with the vulva, the vagina is mostly made up of epithelial skin cells, so many of the cancers that affect the vagina are skin-related.

Vaginal Squamous Cell Carcinoma

The majority of vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, making up around 85% of diagnoses. This type develops in the epithelial cells lining the vagina, usually occurring close to the cervix. This type develops from precancerous areas called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN).

Vaginal Adenocarcinoma

Making up about 10% of vaginal cancer diagnoses, adenocarcinomas occur in the glands within the vagina. 

Vaginal Melanoma

This is a rare type of vaginal cancer because melanomas usually occur on parts of the body where the skin is exposed to the sun. However, melanoma can develop inside the vagina.

Vaginal Sarcoma

Even more rare are vaginal sarcomas, which are cancers of the soft tissue within the vagina.

Vaginal Cancer Diagnosis

Risk factors for this type of cancer include an HPV infection, HIV, smoking, and having had cervical cancer. 


  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Pain during intercourse

Tests & Exams

Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more.

  • Pap test
  • Biopsy
  • CT scan
  • MRI
  • PET scan

Graphic of a microscope symbolizing a deeper look into specific cancers


Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.

TNM System

(Tumor – node – metastasis system)

  • T: shows how far the main tumor has spread into nearby tissue
  • N: shows whether or not the nearby lymph nodes have cancer in them
  • M: shows if the cancer has spread (or metastasized) to distant organs in the body
Stage I
Stage II
Stage III
Stage IV A
Stage IV B

Stage I

Cancer cells have formed and can be found in the vagina.

Stage I Vaginal Cancer

Stage II

Cancer cells have spread to the paravaginal tissues, but not the pelvic wall.

Stage II Vaginal Cancer

Stage III

Cancer has spread to the pelvic sidewall, or is causing kidney malfunction.

Stage III Vaginal Cancer

Stage IV A

Cancer has spread beyond the vagina and pelvic wall to other organs in the body.
Stage IV A Vaginal Cancer

Stage IV B

Cancer has spread beyond the vagina and pelvic wall to other organs in the body.

Stage IV B Vaginal Cancer


The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.

Comparison of the different grades of cancer

Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Like vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer is primarily treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combination. Each person’s treatment plan is customized based on their cancer type and stage.

In-Office Therapies

Other Courses of Treatment

Radiation Therapy

This type of treatment uses radiation to kill cancer cells or stop them from growing. The method and dosage of radiation therapy are dependent on the extent of the cancer.


The type of surgery prescribed is dependent on the type and extent of the cancer. A vaginectomy, one of the more common treatment procedures, removes some or all of the vagina, and a hysterectomy removes the uterus and other affected organs in the pelvis. Women who undergo a vaginectomy may be candidates for reconstruction.