Cancer that starts in the vagina is rare and usually occurs in women between 50 and 70 years of age. Cancer may spread to the vagina from the vulva, cervix, endometrium (lining of the uterus) or ovaries. Most primary vaginal cancers are a form of squamous cell carcinoma. There is some evidence that those who have a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection are more likely to develop this form of cancer. An HPV vaccine is now available.
The usual first symptom is abnormal bleeding (particularly after sexual intercourse), pain and a foul discharge. The diagnosis can be confirmed by a smear or biopsy taken from the suspicious area, which can usually be easily felt during a vaginal examination and seen using a vaginal speculum.
Available treatments include surgical removal of the vagina and a hysterectomy or irradiation. Chemotherapy is not normally appropriate.