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What is vaginal cancer?

Primary vaginal cancer is any cancer that starts in the vagina. There are several types as detailed below. Some cancers of the vagina have spread from a cancer elsewhere in the body. These are called secondary vaginal cancers.

Secondary cancer in the vagina is more common than primary vaginal cancer. This means the cancer has spread from another part of the body, such as the cervix, uterus, vulva, bladder, bowel or other nearby organs. Secondary vaginal cancer is managed differently to primary vaginal cancer. For more information, speak to your treatment team.

Types of vaginal cancer
  • squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)
    • starts in the thin, flat (squamous) cells lining the vagina
    • most likely to occur in the upper vagina
    • usually grows slowly over many years
    • makes up about 85% of vaginal cancers
  • adenocarcinoma
    • develops from the mucus-producing (glandular) cells of the vagina
    • more likely to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes
    • makes up 5–10% of vaginal cancers
    • includes clear cell carcinoma
  • vaginal (mucosal) melanoma
    • starts in the cells that give the skin its colour (melanocytes), also found in the vagina’s lining
    • a rare form of vaginal cancer
  • sarcoma
    • develops from muscle, fat and other tissue deep in the wall of the vagina
    • a rare form of vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is one of the rarest types of cancer affecting the female reproductive system (gynaecological cancer). Each year in Australia, about 80 women are diagnosed with vaginal cancer, and it is more common in women over 60. However, vaginal cancer, particularly adenocarcinoma, can sometimes occur in younger women.

Featured resource

Understanding Vulvar and Vaginal Cancers

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