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Symptoms of vaginal cancer

It is rare to have symptoms if you have very early stage vaginal cancer or changes in the lining of the vagina called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN). Your doctor or nurse may pick up signs of VAIN or very early vaginal cancer during routine cervical screening. As with most cancers, this early stage disease can be successfully treated.

Although some early stage vaginal cancers may have symptoms, many do not. But possible symptoms include

  • Bleeding between periods, after menopause, or after sex.
  • Vaginal discharge that smells or may be blood stained
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • A lump or growth in the vagina that you or your doctor can feel
  • A vaginal itch that won’t go away

As well as the above, the following symptoms are more likely with cancers that have spread deeper into the wall of the vagina or into nearby organs (advanced cancer).

  • Constipation
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Swelling in your legs (oedema)
  • Pain in the pelvic area that won’t go away

 

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About vaginal cancer symptoms

It is rare to have symptoms if you have very early stage vaginal cancer or changes in the lining of the vagina called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN). As many as 2 women in 10 (20%) diagnosed with vaginal cancer don’t have symptoms at all. Your doctor may pick up signs of VAIN or very early vaginal cancer during routine cervical screening. As with most cancers, this early stage disease can be successfully treated.

Many vaginal cancers do not cause symptoms until they are in the advanced stages.

 

Possible symptoms of vaginal cancer

Overall, around 8 out of 10 women (80%) have one or more symptoms with vaginal cancer, including

  • Bleeding when you are not having a period or after menopause – this is the most common symptom and you may have bleeding after sex
  • Vaginal discharge that smells or is blood stained – about 3 out of 10 women (30%) have this symptom
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • A lump or growth in the vagina that you or your doctor can feel – up to 1 in 10 women (10%) have this
  • A vaginal itch that won’t go away

Many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, such as infections.

 

Other symptoms

As well as the above, the following symptoms are more likely with advanced cancer of the vagina.

  • Constipation
  • Pain when passing urine
  • Swelling in your legs (oedema)
  • Pain in the pelvic area that won’t go away
 

Cancer risk after hysterectomy

If you have had your womb removed (a hysterectomy), you can still get cancer of the vagina. But this is very uncommon. As you no longer have a cervix, you will no longer get invitations from your GP for regular cervical screening. But if you would like to carry on having check ups, you can ask your doctor to take samples of cells from the top of your vagina. The area at the top of the vagina is called the vaginal vault. The pathology lab can examine the cells in the same way that they would a cervical screening test.

If you have had your womb removed for precancerous cells of the cervix (CIN), you may have regular vault smears for about 18 months afterwards.

Remember that cancer of the vagina is rare so if you have any of these symptoms it is more likely to be something else. But it is important that you report them to your doctor.

There is information in this section about when you should see a specialist for suspected vaginal cancer.

 

More information

The earlier a cancer is picked up, the easier it is to treat it and the more likely the treatment is to be successful. So it is important that you go to your GP as soon as possible if you notice worrying symptoms.

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Updated: 14 October 2013