Northside Health Library


Vaginal tumors

Definition

A vaginal tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the vagina, a female reproductive organ.

Alternative Names

Vaginal cancer; Cancer - vagina; Tumor - vaginal

Causes

Most cancerous vaginal tumors occur when another cancer, such as cervical or endometrial cancer, spreads. This is called secondary vaginal cancer.

Primary vaginal cancer is very rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. This is called squamous cell cancer. The other types are adenocarcinoma (6%), melanoma (3%), and sarcoma (3%).

The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown. However, a history of cervical cancer is common in women with squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina.

Most women with squamous cell cancer of the vagina are over 50.

Adenocarcinomas of the vagina more commonly affect younger women. The average age at which adenocarcinoma of the vagina is diagnosed is 19. Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) to prevent miscarriages during the first 3 months of pregnancy are more likely to develop vaginal adenocarcinoma.

Sarcoma botryoides of the vagina is a rare type of cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.

Symptoms

  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Painless vaginal bleeding and discharge
  • Pain in the pelvis or vagina

Some women have no symptoms.

Exams and Tests

In patients with no symptoms, the cancer may be found during a routine pelvic examination and Pap smear.

Other tests to diagnose vaginal tumors include:

Other tests that may be done include:

Treatment

Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer, and how far the disease has spread.

Surgery is sometimes used to remove the cancer, but most patients are treated with radiation. If the tumor is cervical cancer that has spread to the vagina, then radiation and chemotherapy are both given.

Sarcoma botryoides may be treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.

Support Groups

You can ease the stress of illness by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems. See: Cancer resources

Outlook (Prognosis)

How well patients with vaginal cancer do depends on the stage of disease and the specific type of tumor.

Possible Complications

Vaginal cancer may spread to other areas of the body. Complications can occur from radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you notice bleeding after intercourse or have persistent vaginal bleeding or discharge.

Prevention

There are no definite ways to prevent this cancer. You can increase your chances of early detection by getting regular yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears.

References

Dotters DJ, Katz VL. Malignant diseases of the vagina: intraepithelial neoplasia, carcinoma, sarcoma. In: Katz VL, Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM. Comprehensive Gynecology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Mosby; 2007:chap 31.

Jhingran A, Russell AH, Seiden MV, et al. Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKenna WG, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 91.

Markman M. Gynecologic cancers. In: Goldman L, Ausiello D, eds. Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 205.


Review Date: 2/26/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Susan Storck, MD, FACOG, Chief, Eastside Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Group Health Cooperative of Puget Sound, Bellevue, Washington; Clinical Teaching Faculty, Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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