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The stages of cancer of the vagina

Women discussing vaginal cancer

This page is about the stages of vaginal cancer.

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

The stages of cancer of the vagina

The stage of a cancer describes how big it is and whether it has spread. It is important because doctors often decide treatment according to stage. There are different ways of staging vaginal cancers. Most gynaecologists prefer to use the FIGO system, which has 5 stages. 

Stage 0 or VAIN 3 – This is not vaginal cancer, but could turn into a cancer in some women. Stage 0 is also known as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia grade 3 (VAIN 3) or carcinoma in situ (CIS). There are abnormal cells in the inner lining of the vagina. But the cells are only in the lining and have not spread into the deeper layers of the vagina.

Stage 1 – The cancer has started to grow into the wall of the vagina but has not spread further.

Stage 2 – The cancer has begun to spread outside the vagina into the surrounding tissues. But it has not reached the walls of your pelvis.

Stage 3 – The cancer has spread outside your vagina and reached the side walls of your pelvis. It may also affect nearby lymph nodes.

Stage 4 – This stage is advanced vaginal cancer and the cancer has spread to other body organs outside the vagina.

Cancer that has come back after treatment is called recurrent cancer.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating vaginal cancer section.

 

 

What staging is

The stage of a cancer describes how big it is and whether it has spread. It is important because doctors often decide treatment according to stage. The tests and scans that you have had will give your doctor some information about the stage of your cancer. But your doctor may not be able to tell you the exact stage until after you have had surgery.

 

Different staging systems

There are different ways of staging vaginal cancers. Most gynaecologists prefer to use the FIGO system, developed by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics. There are 5 stages – from stage 0 (the earliest stage) to stage 4 (the most advanced stage). 

Sometimes staging can sound a bit confusing. If you don't understand what stage your cancer is and would like to know more, you can ask your doctor or specialist nurse to explain. It may help you understand why your doctor recommends a particular treatment for you. There is a list of questions for your doctor at the end of this section that may also help. There is information about staging cancers in the about cancer section.

 

Five stages of vaginal cancer

The FIGO system has 5 staging groups for vaginal cancer. These are

Stage 0 (VAIN 3)

This is not vaginal cancer, but could turn into a cancer. Some doctors call it precancer although many women with VAIN will not develop cancer. Stage 0 is also known as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia grade 3 (VAIN 3) or carcinoma in situ (CIS). There are abnormal cells in the inner lining of the vagina but they are only in the lining. The cells have not spread away from where they started or begun to grow into the deeper tissues of the vagina.

VAIN can be classified as VAIN 1, 2 or 3. VAIN 1 means the abnormal cells are in one third of the thickness of the lining of the vagina. VAIN 3 means the full thickness of the lining of the vagina has abnormal cells. VAIN is a precancerous condition. If it is detected and you have treatment, this can prevent vaginal cancer from developing.

Diagram shwoing the layers of the vaginal wall

Stage 1

In this stage the cancer has started to grow into the wall of the vagina but has not spread further.

Diagram showing stage 1 vaginal cancer

Stage 2

In this stage, the cancer has begun to spread outside the vagina into the surrounding tissues. But it has not reached the walls of the pelvis.

Diagram showing stage 2 vaginal cancer

Stage 3

This stage means that the cancer has spread outside the vagina and reached the side walls of the pelvis. There may also be cancer cells in lymph nodes close to the vagina.

Diagram showing stage 3 vaginal cancer

Stage 4

This stage is advanced vaginal cancer. The cancer has spread to other body organs outside the vagina.

If the cancer has spread to your bladder or back passage (rectum), this is called stage 4A. Only about 1 in 10 women (10%) with vaginal cancer have this stage when the cancer is diagnosed.

Diagram showing stage 4A vaginal cancer

If the cancer has spread to organs further away, such as the lungs, this is called stage 4B.

Diagram showing stage 4B vaginal cancer

 

If vaginal cancer comes back

This is called recurrent disease. It means that the cancer has come back (recurred) after previous treatment. If vaginal cancer is going to come back it is most likely to do so within 2 years of first being treated.

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Updated: 14 October 2013