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Symptoms

Find out about the symptoms of vaginal cancer and when to see your doctor.

About symptoms

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.

Possible symptoms

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.

Other symptoms

These symptoms are more likely with advanced vaginal cancer:

  • constipation
  • 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) for medical conditions not related to cancer, it would be very uncommon for you to get vaginal cancer. But if you have any of the symptoms of vaginal cancer you should go to your GP or gynaecologist. The gynaecologist can take a sample of cells from the top of the vagina. This is called a vault smear. 

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.

Last reviewed: 
10 Sep 2015
  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (10th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Textbook of Uncommon Cancers (4th edition)
    D Raghavan, CD Blanke, DH Johnson and others (Editors)
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2012

  • Cancer and its Management (7th edition)
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Wiley-Blackwell, 2015

Information and help

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