Vaginal Cancer

(Cancer of the Vagina)

Definition

Vaginal cancer is an uncommon disease in which cancer cells grow in the vaginal lining. The vagina is a tube that connects the vulva (external female genitals) to the cervix (lower end of the uterus).There are several types of vaginal cancer:
  • Squamous cell carcinoma—Occurs in the lining of the vagina.
  • Adenocarcinoma—Occurs in the area of the vagina lined with cells similar to those in the glands of the cervix and uterus.
    • Clear cell adenocarcinoma—Occurs in women whose mother used a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy. This drug was introduced in the late 1930s and no longer used after 1971, so the incidence of this particular type of adenocarcinoma is expected to decline.
  • Melanoma—Usually affects lower or outer portion of the vagina.
  • Sarcoma—Forms deep in the walls of the vagina, not on the surface.
Female Reproductive Organs
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Causes

Cancer occurs when cells in the body divide without control or order. Normally, cells divide in a regulated manner. If cells keep dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms, called a growth or tumor. The term cancer refers to malignant growths. These growths can invade nearby tissues. Cancer that has invaded nearby tissues can then spread to other parts of the body.It is not clear exactly what causes these problems in the cells, but is probably a combination of genetics and environment.

Risk Factors

Vaginal cancer is more common in women after age 60 years of age. Other factors that may increase your chance of vaginal cancer include:
  • History of cervical cancer
  • History of precancerous conditions in the cervix or vagina
  • Having a mother who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant
  • Human papillomavirus infection (HPV)—a sexually transmitted disease (STD)
  • Vaginal adenosis—when cells lining the vagina look like those found in the cervix and uterus
  • Smoking

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