Vaginal cancer is a rare form of cancer which primarily affects women over the age of 70. The causes are often unknown. An infection with particular types of the HPV virus (human papillomavirus) is deemed to be a risk factor. The treatment focuses on surgical removal and radiotherapy.
With a frequency of 0.5–1 in 100,000, vaginal cancer is a rare disease. It usually involves cancer of the mucous membrane (squamous cell carcinoma). Cancer of the gland cells (adenocarcinoma) or melanoma is sometimes behind vaginal cancer. The exact cause of the disease is largely unknown. Infections with particular types of the HPV virus are deemed to be a risk factor. The disease affects elderly women in particular.
Vaginal cancer does not cause any symptoms for a long time. A brownish-bloody discharge or bleeding after sexual intercourse can be indications of vaginal cancer. Such symptoms should therefore be clarified at the gynaecologist. However, they are usually only harmless and not caused by cancer. If a patient has advanced vaginal cancer, they may have pain in the lower abdomen or difficulties when urinating and defecating.
Vaginal cancer is diagnosed with a gynaecological examination and with a vaginal endoscopy, which involves taking tissue samples of suspicious areas and examining them for cancerous cells. Ultrasound examinations and other procedures such as an MRI or computed tomography are also used as a form of clarification.
The treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer and what stage it is in. If possible, the tumour will be surgically removed. Depending on how extensive the tumour is, the entire vagina must be removed in certain circumstances. You can find out more about the surgical treatment options in the vaginal surgery section. Radiotherapy is generally carried out after surgical treatment. Sometimes radiotherapy is also the only treatment option if surgery is not feasible. Chemotherapy does not make a difference in patients with vaginal cancer, unless there are melanomas involved.