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Vaginal cancer | Cancer Council Skip to main content

Vaginal Cancer

Types of vaginal cancer

The two main types of primary vaginal cancers are named after the cells from which they develop.

Primary vaginal cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of vaginal cancer and usually affects women who are 50-70 years old.

Adenocarcinoma is less common and affects young women less than 25 years old, but it can also occur in other age groups.

Other types of vaginal cancer that are very rare include melanoma, small cell carcinoma, sarcoma and lymphoma.

Secondary vaginal cancer

Secondary cancers in the vagina (those that have spread from other parts of the body) are more common than primary vaginal cancer. They usually come from the cervix, the lining of the womb, the vulva or from nearby organs such as the bladder or bowel.

Vaginal cancer causes

As with many cancers, the exact cause of most vaginal cancers is unknown, but research is going on all the time to try to find the cause.

Some factors that increase the risk of vaginal cancer include:

  • Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) - This is a precancerous condition of the vagina that is sometimes caused by human papillomavirus (HPV
  • Vaginal adenosis - This condition causes abnormal cells to form in the tissue of the vagina.
  • Smoking doubles the risk of developing vaginal cancer
  • Being the daughter of a woman who used the drug diethylstilboestrol (DES) during pregnancy to prevent a miscarriage
  • Infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • Cervical cancer
  • Radiotherapy to the pelvic area

 Vaginal cancer symptoms and diagnosis

The most common symptoms of vaginal cancer are:

  • Blood-stained vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • 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, can also occur
  • Pain in the back passage may sometimes occur


The usual tests to diagnose vaginal cancer are:

  • Pap smear
  • Colposcopy
  • Biopsy
  • Treatment


The treatment for vaginal cancer depends on:

  • Age
  • General health
  • Stage
  • Grade
  • Type of cancer

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