Group of doctors sitting around a table at a board meeting.

When you come to Miami Cancer Institute for vaginal cancer treatment, you’ll be met with compassionate care from highly skilled specialists. Your care team will work tirelessly to find the right treatment for your disease, while working side-by-side with you to develop a plan that fits your individual needs.

Our gynecologic cancer specialists have access to a range of advanced technologies and multidisciplinary teams, where they collaborate on treatment plans. These tools and resources allow your care team to give personalized care that effectively treats your specific type of cancer.

At Miami Cancer Institute, we focus on whole-patient care. Each treatment plan includes innovative therapies, as well as services to help you understand, cope with and better manage cancer’s effects on your overall health. These include nutritional advice, physical therapy and pain management services. Not only do we focus on the treatment that’s right for your type of cancer, we focus on the treatment that’s right for you as an individual.

What is vaginal cancer?

Vaginal cancer is a rare disease in which cancerous, or malignant, cells form in the vagina. The vagina begins at the narrow end of the uterus (the cervix) and opens into the external genitals, or vulva, made up of the inner and outer labia.

Cancer of the vagina is different from vulvar cancer in that the cancer cells form in the lining of the vagina, rather than outside the vagina on the vulva.

What are the types of vaginal cancer?

Nearly 90 percent of vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer starts in the squamous cells, which make up the lining of the vagina. In most cases, this type of cancer forms in the upper part of the vagina near the cervix.

Other types of vaginal cancer are:

  • Vaginal pre-cancer, or VAIN - Vaginal pre-cancer, also called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia or VAIN, is a condition where some cells look abnormal and could become cancer over time. While some low-grade types of VAIN go away without treatment, advanced types of VAIN can lead to vaginal cancer if left untreated.
  • Adenocarcinoma - These cancers start in gland cells. About 10 percent of vaginal cancers are adenocarcinomas. 
  • Melanoma - These cancers start in the cells that give skin its color. This is an extremely rare type of vaginal cancer.
  • Sarcoma - This type of cancer starts in cells of muscles, connective tissue or bones. This is an extremely rare type of vaginal cancer. 

What are the risk factors for vaginal cancer?

Being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV) is one of the biggest risk factors for developing vaginal cancer. In fact, HPV causes more than two thirds of vaginal cancers.
You can contract HPV by coming in contact with the mouth, genitals or anus of an infected person. Unfortunately, other than genital warts, there is no way of knowing whether a sexual partner has HPV.

Another major risk factor for vaginal cancer is being exposed to the drug diethylstilbestrol, or DES, while in the womb. This drug was given to some pregnant mothers in the 1950s to prevent miscarriage.

Other risk factors for vaginal cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Being over the age of 60
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or uterus
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or uterus
  • Having a hysterectomy for uterine health problems

What can you do to prevent vaginal cancer?

There is no guaranteed way to prevent cancer. However, because many vaginal cancers are caused by infection with HPV, you can reduce your risk for vaginal cancer by using a condom during sexual intercourse and limiting the number of partners you have.

Condoms cannot provide complete protection against HPV, but they can significantly lower your risk for infection.

You can also lower your risk with the HPV vaccine. Keep in mind this vaccine only helps prevent HPV infection and does not help treat people already infected with HPV. Ask your doctor about the vaccine and whether it’s something that’s safe for you.

Stopping smoking may also reduce your risk for vaginal cancer.

Is vaginal cancer screening available?

Regular gynecologic check-ups can help find early signs of vaginal cancer. Many vaginal cancers start as pre-cancers, or VAIN, which can be detected during a routine pelvic exam and Pap smear. Although a Pap smear is used to test cells from the cervix, cells from the vaginal lining are usually picked up during the test. If pre-cancer is found during this exam, it can be treated before it turns into vaginal cancer.

After the Pap smear, the mucus is sent to a lab where a pathologist checks for abnormal cells or signs of cancer.

It’s important to talk to your doctor about the right time to start regular pelvic exams and screenings. How often you have screenings will depend on your risk factors, medical history and whether you’ve had an abnormal Pap result in the past. 

A Breakthrough in Collaborative Care

A Breakthrough in Collaborative Care

As Florida's only member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering (MSK) Cancer Alliance, Miami Cancer Institute is part of a deep and functional collaboration that affords patients access to innovative treatments right here at home and ensures that the standards of care developed by our multidisciplinary disease management team match those at MSK.

Have questions? We're here to help.

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