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About the vagina

Women discussing vaginal cancer

This page is about the vagina. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

About the vagina

The vagina is the passage that leads from the cervix to the vulva. The cervix is at the bottom of the womb (uterus). The vulva is visible from outside the body. It forms the skin flaps around the entrance to the vagina. The vagina is called the birth canal.

The walls of the vagina are normally in a relaxed state. They touch each other and contain many folds. Small glands in the cervix produce mucus to keep the vaginal lining moist. The vagina stretches during childbirth to allow the baby to come out. The vagina is made up of tissue layers. These include

  • The epithelial tissue layer – a thin layer of tissue made up of the squamous cells that line the vaginal walls
  • The connective tissue layer – a layer underneath the epithelium, made of fibrous tissue with muscle, lymph vessels and nerves

The lymph nodes

Like all other parts of the body, there are lymph nodes around the vagina. These are also called lymph glands. They are small bean shaped glands that are part of the lymphatic system. They help to control infection by trapping and killing damaged cells, bacteria and viruses. The nearest lymph nodes are usually the first place that cancer cells reach when they break away from a tumour. Your specialist may remove some of the lymph nodes close to the vagina during surgery.

 

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Where the vagina is

The vagina is the birth canal. It is the passage that leads from the neck of the womb (cervix) to the vulva. The cervix is at the bottom of the womb (uterus). The vulva is visible from outside the body. It forms the skin flaps around the entrance to the vagina. 

Diagram showing the position of the vagina

 

What the vagina does

The vagina is about 7.5 to 10 cm long and is the opening that allows blood to drain out each month during your menstrual period. The walls of the vagina are normally in a relaxed state. They touch each other and contain many folds. The vagina opens and expands during sexual intercourse. Small glands in the cervix produce mucus to keep the vaginal lining moist. The vagina stretches during childbirth to allow the baby to come out.

The vagina is made up of tissue layers. These include the following

  • The epithelial tissue layer – a thin layer of tissue made up of the squamous cells that line the vaginal walls
  • The connective tissue layer – a layer underneath the epithelium, made of fibrous tissue with muscle, lymph vessels and nerves
 

Lymph glands around the vagina

There are lymph nodes around the vagina. These are also called lymph glands. They are small bean shaped glands that are part of the lymphatic system. They drain fluid from the tissues around the vagina and help to control infection by trapping and killing bacteria and viruses.

The nearest lymph nodes are usually the first place that cancer cells reach when they break away from a tumour. Your specialist may remove some of the lymph nodes during surgery. If so, another specialist will examine them closely under a microscope to see if they contain cancer cells. This tells the doctors the stage of the cancer and helps them to decide on the most suitable treatment. There is more about the lymph glands and the lymphatic system in the about your body section.

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Updated: 14 October 2013