Find out about the symptoms of vaginal cancer and when to see your doctor.
It’s rare to have symptoms if you have very early vaginal cancer or abnormal cell changes in the lining of the vagina, called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN).
As many as 20 in 100 women (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, doctors can succesfully treat this early stage of disease.
Many vaginal cancers don’t cause symptoms until they are in the advanced stages.
Overall, around 80 out of 100 women (80%) with vaginal cancer have one or more symptoms. These include:
- bleeding inbetween periods or after the menopause
- bleeding after sex
- vaginal discharge that smells or is 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
Remember that many of these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, such as infection.
These symptoms are more likely with advanced vaginal cancer:
- pain when going for a wee or going more often than usual
- swelling in your legs (oedema)
- pain in the pelvic area that won’t go away
Risk after hysterectomy
If you’ve 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 won't get requests from your GP for regular cervical screening. If you would like to continue to have check ups, you can ask your doctor for an examination.
They’ll take samples of cells from the top of your vagina, called the vaginal vault. The pathology lab can examine the cells the same way they would a cervical screening test.
If you had your womb removed for pre cancerous cells of the cervix (CIN), you may have regular vault smears for about 18 months afterwards.
When to see your doctor
There are many other conditions that cause these symptoms. Most of them are much more common than vaginal cancer. But you should go to your GP straight away if you have any of these symptoms.
You probably don't have cancer. But if you do, the sooner you are treated, the more likely you are to be cured.