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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 rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. This cancer is known as squamous cell cancer. The other types are adenocarcinoma, melanoma, and sarcoma.

The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown. But 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.

Adenocarcinoma of the vagina usually affects younger women. The average age at which this cancer 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 of the vagina is a rare cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.

Symptoms

Symptoms of vaginal cancer can include any of the following:

  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Painless vaginal bleeding and discharge not due to normal period
  • 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 exam 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 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.

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 chance of early detection by getting regular yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears.

References

Bodurka DC, Frumovitz M. Malignant diseases of the vagina: intraepithelial neoplasia, carcinoma, sarcoma In: Lentz GM, Lobo RA, Gershenson DM, Katz VL, eds. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2012:chap 31.

Jhingran A, Russell AH, Seiden MV, et al. Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, et al., eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2013:chap 87.

National Cancer Institute: PDQ Vaginal Cancer Treatment. Bethesda, Md: National Cancer Institute. Date last modified: March 12, 2014. Available at: http://cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/vaginal/HealthProfessional. Accessed: March 11, 2014.


Review Date: 3/11/2014
Reviewed By: 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, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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