Vaginal Cancer: The Basics

Author: OncoLink Team
Last Reviewed: August 18, 2022

Vaginal cancer is cancer that starts in the vagina. It is caused by vaginal cells growing out of control. As the number of cells grow, they form into a tumor.

Vaginal cancer that has spread from the vagina to another part of the body is called metastatic cancer.


Some risk factors include:

  • If your mother took Diethylstilbestrol(DES) while pregnant with you. This medication is no longer used for pregnant women.
  • HPV.
  • Smoking.
  • Having had cervical cancer.
  • HIV.

Signs of Vaginal Cancer

The signs can include:

  • Vaginal bleeding that is not a period.
  • Bleeding after going through menopause.
  • Pain during sex.

Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer

When your healthcare providers think you may have vaginal cancer, they will order tests. Here are some of the tests:

  • Pelvic exam and Pap test.
  • Colposcopy.

Staging Vaginal Cancer

To guide treatment, vaginal cancer is "staged." This stage is based on:

  • Size and location of the tumor.
  • Whether cancer cells are in the lymph nodes.
  • Whether cancer cells are in other parts of the body.

Stages range from stage I (smallest, most confined tumors) to stage IV (tumors that have spread to other parts of the body, also called metastatic cancer). The stage and type of vaginal cancer will guide your treatment plan.


Often, these treatments are used:

  • Surgery can be used to remove the cancer.
  • Radiation, the use of high energy x-rays to kill cancer cells, can be used. The types of radiation used are external beam radiation and brachytherapy. Sometimes they are both used.
  • Chemotherapy, the use of medications to kill cancer cells, can be given.

This article is a basic guide to vaginal cancer. You can learn more about your type of vaginal cancer and treatment by using the links below.

Vaginal Cancer: Staging and Treatment

Surgical Procedures: Surgical Staging for Vaginal Cancer

Resources for More Information: Gynecologic Cancers


American Cancer Society, Vaginal Cancer

United States Preventive Services Task Force Cervical Cancer Screening Guidelines

AJCC (2018). Cancer Staging Form Supplement to the AJCC Cancer Staging Manual, 8thEdition. Retrieved from

Bardawil, T (Ed.). Vaginal Cancer, Medscape, Updated May 3, 2012.

Beriwal, S., Demanes, D. J., Erickson, B., Jones, E., Jennifer, F., Cormack, R. A., ... & Viswanathan, A. N. (2012). American Brachytherapy Society consensus guidelines for interstitial brachytherapy for vaginal cancer. Brachytherapy, 11(1), 68-75.

de Martel, C., Plummer, M., Vignat, J., & Franceschi, S. (2017). Worldwide burden of cancer attributable to HPV by site, country and HPV type. International journal of cancer, 141(4), 664-670.

Hacker, N. F., Eifel, P. J., & van der Velden, J. (2015). Cancer of the vagina. International Journal of gynecology & obstetrics, 131, S84-S87.

Nasu, K et al. (2010) Primary mucinous adenocarcinoma of the vagina. European journal of gynecologic oncology: 31(6): 679-681.

Ozgul, N., Basaran, D., Boyraz, G., Salman, C., & Yuce, K. (2016). Radical Hysterectomy and Total Abdominal Vaginectomy for Primary Vaginal Cancer. International journal of gynecological cancer, 26(3), 580-581.

Pannu, H. K. (2014). Vaginal Cancer. In, Atlas of gynecologic oncology imaging (pp. 105-132). Springer New York.

Sinno, A. K., Saraiya, M., Thompson, T. D., Hernandez, B. Y., Goodman, M. T., Steinau, M., ... & Wilkinson, E. J. (2014). Human papillomavirus genotype prevalence in invasive vaginal cancer from a registry-based population. Obstetrics and gynecology, 123(4), 817.


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