Statistics and outlook for vaginal cancer
This page is about statistics and what they can tell us about the outlook for people with vaginal cancer.
Statistics and outlook for vaginal cancer
Outlook means your chances of getting better. Doctors call this prognosis. With vaginal cancer, the likely outcome depends on how advanced the cancer is when it is diagnosed (the stage).
Below, we have quite detailed information about the likely outcome of different stages of vaginal cancer. The statistics we use are taken from various sources, including the opinions and experience of the experts who check every section of our website. They are intended as a general guide only. For the more complete picture in your case, you need to speak to your own specialist.
We include statistics because people ask for them, but not everyone wants to read this type of information.
How reliable are cancer statistics?
No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people. The statistics cannot tell you about the different treatments people may have had, or how that treatment may have affected their prognosis. There are many individual factors that will affect your treatment and your outlook.
You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating vaginal cancer section.
Further down this page is quite detailed information about the survival rates of different stages of vaginal cancer. We have included it because many people ask us for this type of information. But not everyone who is diagnosed with a cancer wants to read it. If you are not sure whether you want to know at the moment or not, then perhaps you might like to skip this page for now. You can always come back to it.
It is important to bear in mind that it is difficult to get accurate survival statistics for vaginal cancer because it is a very rare type of cancer. So the statistics are taken from very small numbers of women and are sometimes combined with outcomes for vulval cancers.
There is information about the different types of cancer statistics in our section about cancer statistics. Unless you are very familiar with medical statistics, you may find it helpful to read this before you read the information below.
Remember that statistics are averages based on large numbers of patients. They cannot predict exactly what will happen to you. No two people are exactly alike and the response to treatment also varies from one person to another.
You should feel free to ask your doctor about your prognosis. But not even your doctor can tell you for sure what will happen. You may hear your doctor use the term 5 year survival. It does not mean you will only live 5 years. It relates to the number of people in research who were still alive 5 years after diagnosis. Doctors follow what happens to people for at least 5 years after treatment in any research study so that they can accurately compare the results of different treatments.
As with many other types of cancer, the outcome depends on the stage of your cancer. The stage means the size of the vaginal cancer and whether it has spread when it is diagnosed. Women with smaller tumours generally have a better outcome. The outcome also depends on the position of the cancer in the vagina.
Generally, the survival rates are better for women with cancer in a third or less of the vagina. Tumours involving the whole of the vagina tend to have a poorer prognosis. This is probably just because the tumours are larger. Women from poorer social groups tend to have poorer survival than women from higher socioeconomic groups.
Other factors affecting the overall outcome are
- Whether you have symptoms
- The grade of the cancer cells (how the cells look under the microscope)
Generally, the outlook is better for women who are under 60 when they are diagnosed. It is also better for women who don’t have symptoms. This is probably because cancers diagnosed at an earlier stage are less likely to cause symptoms than more advanced cancers.
In the UK, of all the women diagnosed with cancer of the vagina or cancer of the vulva, more than half (58%) will live for 5 years or more after diagnosis. The following survival statistics are taken from the results of various research studies so the statistics can have quite a wide range. They relate to women who had treatment, rather than women who did not have treatment.
Below is specific information about the outlook for the different stages of vaginal cancer.
Around 95 out of 100 women with VAIN 3 (95%) live for more than 5 years.
More than 7 out of 10 women (70%) diagnosed with stage 1 cancer of the vagina live for 5 years or more.
Just under 4 out of 10 women (40%) diagnosed with stage 2 vaginal cancer will live for more than 5 years.
As you might expect, the survival figures are lower for the more advanced stages of vaginal cancer. But because the numbers of women with vaginal cancer are small the range can be quite wide in different research studies. One study showed around 4 out of 10 women with stage 3 vaginal cancer (40%) live for 5 years or more.
Stage 4 vaginal cancer is more difficult to control. Between 13 and 21% of women live for more than 5 years.
Melanoma of the vagina is very rare and has a much poorer outlook than other types of vaginal cancer. Between 15 to 20% of women diagnosed with this type of cancer will live for 5 years or more.
Other factors can affect your prognosis, apart from the stage of your cancer, including
- How well you are overall
- Your age
- The grade of your cancer
Grade describes what the cancer cells look like under a microscope. The grade of a cancer tells you how much the cancer cells look like normal cells. There are 3 grades of vaginal cancer – from 1 to 3.
- Grade 1 (low grade) – the cancer cells look very much like normal vaginal cells (they are well differentiated)
- Grade 2 (intermediate grade) – the cancer cells look unlike normal cells (they are moderately differentiated)
- Grade 3 (high grade) – the cancer cells look very abnormal and very little like normal cells (they are poorly differentiated)
Differentiation means how developed or mature a cell is. The grade of the cancer gives your specialist an idea about how the cancer is likely to behave. Low grade cancers are usually slower to grow and less likely to spread. High grade cancers are likely to be faster growing and are more likely to spread. But this is only a guide. Your specialist will consider all your test results when deciding which treatment is best for you.
Doctors also have a way of grading how well you are. They call this your performance status. A score of 0 means you are completely able to look after yourself. A score of 1 means you can do most things for yourself, but need some help. The scores continue to go up, depending on how much help you need. For example, if you are weak from losing weight or being in pain, and feel very tired, you will need more day to day help. So your performance score will be at least 1. Performance status is sometimes written as PS.
No statistics can tell you what will happen to you. Your cancer is unique. The same type of cancer can grow at different rates in different people for example. The statistics are not detailed enough to tell you about the different treatments people may have had. And they also don't show how treatment may have affected people's prognosis. Many individual factors will determine your treatment and prognosis.
Research evidence shows that taking part in clinical trials may improve outlook. No one is completely sure why this is. It is probably partly to do with your doctors and nurses monitoring you more closely if you are in a trial. For example, you may have more scans and blood tests. There is more information in the trials and research section. You can also search the clinical trials database for trials into vaginal cancer.
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