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Vaginal Cancer

What You Need To Know

Vaginal cancer is one of the more rare forms of women’s cancers and affects about 2,500 women annually. There are several different types of vaginal cancers and they are named for the area in which they originate. They are:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamos Cell Carcinoma is the most common form of vaginal cancer and it begins in the squamous cells which make up the lining of the vagina. 70 out of 100 cases of vaginal cancer originate from the squamous cells. This cancer is usually found in the higher region of the vagina, near the cervix.


Adenocarcinoma refers to cancer found in the glad cells of the vagina. This type of cancer affects about 15 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer and usually develops in women older than 50.


Melanoma is cancer that develops in the pigment-producing cells that give skin its color. Although melanoma most commonly affects cells that are exposed to the sun, this cancer can occasionally be found in the internal organs and can affect the lower or outer portion of the vagina. About 9 in every 100 cases of vaginal cancer falls under melanoma.


Sarcoma is cancer that originates in the cells of bones, muscles, or connective tissue. This type of cancer forms deep in the walls of the vagina and affects about 4 in every 100 cases of vaginal cancer. Vaginal sarcomas can present in a female at any age, even in childhood.

The symptoms of vaginal cancer can often be mistaken for other infection-related symptoms. It is important to consult your doctor if you experience the following symptoms on a persistent basis:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (after intercourse)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • A mass that can be felt
  • Pain during intercourse

Although there is no known cause for vaginal cancer, the following risks may be associated with the disease:

  • Age
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) – DES is a hormonal drug that was given to pregnant women during 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage. There is an association with daughters born from mothers who took this drug and cervical or vaginal cancer.
  • Human Papilloma Virus - HPV is a group of viruses that can infect HPV is passed from skin-to-skin contact and can infect skin cells, cause genital warts, or vaginal cancer. (See Cervical Cancer for more details)
  • Cervical Cancer
  • HIV
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • One effective way of preventing vaginal cancer is to get vaccinated with Gardasil®. Gardasil can help prevent HPV infections and in turn protect against anal, vulvar, vaginal, and cervical cancers. Other ways to prevent vaginal cancer include avoiding HPV exposure (See cervical cancer) and undergoing an annual Pap test and pelvic exam.

    What We Can Do To Help

    It is important to identify and locate vaginal cancer cells as quickly as possible in order to ensure the most positive outcome. If a patient experiences the symptoms noted above, a St. John Providence specialist will conduct a complete physician exam including a pelvic exam, pap test, and possible biopsy (see below). Once a patient is diagnosed, the physicians at St. John Providence will help to choose the most effective options in treating vaginal cancer. We provide comprehensive treatments in the form of medical therapies and surgical solutions, in addition to providing ongoing post-cancer care. Our range of services includes:

    As with all cancers, early detection is key. If a pap test comes back abnormal, the following tests may be performed to determine and identify cancer cells:

    • Colposcopy: A colposcope, which is an instrument with a binocular-type lens, will be inserted through the vagina to have a better look at the vagina and cervix.
    • Biopsy: The doctor will retrieve and test a sample of tissue to determine whether or not it cancerous.
    • Cystoscopy/Poctoscopy: In later stages of detection, cystoscopy is performed by inserting a thin tube with a lens into the bladder through the urethra. Poctoscopy is the same procedure inserted through the rectum.
    • Imaging Tests: Various imaging tests may be conducted to identify cancerous cells including CT scan, MRI, and PET scan

    To determine how far the cancer has spread, your cancer care team uses a process of analysis known as staging. The stage of your cancer impacts your treatment and the prognosis for recovery. A number of different staging systems can be used to classify tumors.

    The TNM staging system assesses tumors in three ways: size of the primary tumor (T), whether it has spread to lymph nodes (N), and whether it has spread (metastasized) to other organs (M). Once the T, N, and M are determined, a number of I, II, III, or IV is assigned, with stage I being early stage and IV being advanced.

    In general, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV, denotes a more serious case. Your doctor will review your test results and tell you the stage of your cancer.

    Treatment options for vaginal cancer depend on the stage and progression of the cancer. St. John Providence physicians are trained to help determine the most effective treatment option that best suits you as our patient. We treat vaginal cancer with two primary options – surgical treatments and medical therapy treatments.

    Surgical Treatment:

    • Vaginetomy
    • Pelvic Exenteration
    • Lymphadenectomy

    Medical Therapy Treatment:

    • Chemotherapy
    • Radiation Treatment
    • Hormone Treatment

    As part of our Center for Excellence in Cancer Care, St. John Providence utilizes cutting edge technology and the most innovative surgical procedures to treat cancer. In addition to the traditional surgical procedures noted above, our esteemed physicians also perform the following procedures:

    Surgery using the daVinci Robot

    Robert Morris, M.D., and Leigh Ann Solomon, M.D. are trained and experienced in using the daVinci® robot to make gynecologic surgery easier and more effective for women. Making tiny, 1-2 centimeter incisions and using specialized techniques along with the daVinci robot, they can perform precise surgeries with less pain, fewer complications and minimal scarring. Patients typically have shorter hospital stays and return to normal activities quicker than with traditional approaches. DaVinci surgeries include:

    • Simple and radical hysterectomies
    • Hysterectomy (removal of the uterus)
    • Lymph node dissections (for cancer staging)

    Minimally Invasive Procedures

    • Hysteroscopy (used to diagnose and treat infertility and heavy bleeding, or to remove fibroids or polyps)
    • Laparascopy (used to diagnose and treat fibroids, tumors, and conditions such as endometriosis, ectopic pregnancy or pelvic inflammatory disease)

    Specialized Surgical Solutions

    • Fertility sparing procedures for early stage cervical cancer
    • Pelvic reconstruction for advanced gynecologic cancer

    The St. John Providence oncology team is here to support you on your road to recovery. Our goal is to help you attain a healthy body, mind, and spirit. Therefore, our treatment goes beyond surgeries and medical therapies. Your follow-up care can also include other services, including:

    • The Healing Arts Center
    • Support Groups
    • Treating cancer alone is not the only item on our agenda. At St. John Providence, our patients’ long-term health is our priority as well. Following treatment, our dedicated team will provide ongoing gynecological care to endure your health and well-being. These services may include annual exams and screenings and family planning.

    We Have More to Learn

    Although we offer the most advanced care for women in an award-winning hospital, our job of curing cancer is not yet done. At St. John Providence, we are proactively researching and experimenting new ways to help prevent, detect, diagnose, and treat cancer. Click Here to learn more about Vaginal Cancer Clinical Trials currently underway at St. John Providence.

    For more general information about our research efforts, Click Here to read about the clinical trials and research initiatives at our hospitals.


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