Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the vagina (birth canal). About 3,000 cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., with most cases occurring in patients who are 60 years old or older. Women exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) as fetuses are at particularly high risk for developing vaginal cancer.
At UT Southwestern Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, our gynecologic cancer specialists will work with you on an individualized treatment plan that’s best for you and your stage of life. As a patient, you will have one doctor who directs all aspects of your vaginal cancer care including surgical treatment, drug therapies, and follow-up care.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
The most common type of vaginal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which originates in the smooth tissue that lines the vagina.
Adenocarcinoma, which arises in the fluid-producing cells in the vaginal lining, is very rare.
Symptoms and Diagnosis
Early vaginal cancer may not exhibit any symptoms. As it progresses, patients may experience:
- Irregular vaginal bleeding – for example, after intercourse or after menopause
- Watery vaginal discharge
- A lump or mass in the vagina
- Painful urination
- Pelvic pain
To diagnose vaginal cancer, your doctor may perform a pelvic exam or colposcopy, collect a tissue sample to be evaluated by a pathologist, or order blood work.
Treatment for vaginal cancer depends on its characteristics and stage, your overall health, and your preferences and goals. Options include:
External-beam radiation therapy may be used along with chemotherapy to treat more advanced cancers or to shrink them so they can be removed with surgery. Brachtherapy is another common treatment; it involves placing radioactive implants inside the vagina in order to administer a higher dose of radiation to a smaller area than is possible with external radiation treatment.
Learn more about radiation therapy for gynecologic cancers.
Procedures can range from relatively minor to fairly extensive, depending upon how localized the cancer is. Using the latest advancements in surgical technologies and tools, UT Southwestern offers a growing number of minimally invasive and laparoscopic techniques for surgically treating vaginal cancer in appropriate patients. Surgeries for vaginal cancer include local excision of the cancer, vaginectomy, trachelectomy, hysterectomy, lymph node dissection, pelvic exenteration, and vaginal reconstruction.
Learn more about surgery for gynecologic cancers.
This is the main treatment for vaginal cancer that has spread. It is used to shrink tumors before surgery, often in conjunction with radiation therapy.
Learn more about medical treatments for gynecologic cancers.
Many patients qualify to participate in the gynecologic cancer-related clinical trials conducted at UT Southwestern to gain access to new medical treatments and to further research of the disease.
Learn about gynecologic cancer clinical trials offered at UT Southwestern.
Meet Our Team
Our team of vaginal cancer experts includes:
Learn more about all members of our gynecologic cancer team.
Request an Appointment
To schedule an appointment with a vaginal cancer specialist, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.