WHO IS AFFECTED?
Vaginal cancer is rare with just under 260 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year. That is less than one out of every 600 cancers diagnosed in women.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS?
One of the risk factors is age – as women get older their risk of vaginal cancer increases. More than 70% of cases occur in women aged 60 and over. It is an extremely rare type of cancer in women younger than 40.
A condition called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) can mean you are more at risk of getting vaginal cancer. It means there are changes to the cells in the inner lining of the vagina. These changes are not enough to make the cells cancerous but they could become cancerous if not treated.
A hormone drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) is a drug that doctors sometimes gave to pregnant women in the past to stop them having a miscarriage. DES was only used between 1945 and 1970 and researchers are still gathering information about its effects. The daughters of women who took DES during their pregnancy are more at risk of getting a type of vaginal cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma, although it’s very rare.
Women who have had genital warts caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV) may have a slightly higher risk of developing vaginal cancer. Women who have had radiotherapy to the pelvic area may also have a very slightly increased risk.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
It is rare to have symptoms if you have very early stage vaginal cancer or changes in the lining of the vagina called VAIN. The most common symptoms of vaginal cancer are:
- Blood-stained vaginal discharge
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse and pain
- Problems with passing urine (such as blood in the urine, the need to pass urine frequently and the need to pass urine at night)
- Pain in the back passage (rectum)
- Vaginal itch that won’t go away
- Lump or growth in the vagina that you or your doctor can feel
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, particularly if
- They are not normal for you
- They are persistent
- There are repeated episodes
- They do not go away
… be sure to visit your doctor for a check up.
Remember, most women with symptoms like these do not have cancer. Your awareness of your symptoms is the first and most important step – early diagnosis can save lives.
WHAT IS THE TREATMENT?
There is no screening programme for vaginal cancer because it is a very rare condition. But when you have a cervical screening test, the doctor or nurse does a routine examination of your vagina at the same time. They can pick up precancerous conditions such as VAIN during this examination. If you have treatment for VAIN, this can prevent vaginal cancer from developing.
The treatment for vaginal cancer depends on a number of factors, including your general health and the stage, grade and type of cancer. Radiotherapy, surgery and chemotherapy may be used to treat vaginal cancer. You may have one, or a combination, of these treatments. Specialists will discuss and put together a treatment plan.