Symptoms of vaginal cancer

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 successfully treat this early stage of disease.

Possible symptoms

Symptoms of vaginal cancer can include:

  • bleeding in between 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
  • feeling unable to completely empty your bowels even if there is nothing there to come out
  • swelling in your legs (oedema)
  • pain in the pelvic area that won’t go away
  • pain when going for a wee, blood in your wee, or going more often than usual

Risk after hysterectomy

If you have 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 Open a glossary item. 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 examinations 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.

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    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
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  • The Textbook of Uncommon Cancer (5th edition)
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    Wiley Blackwell, 2017

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  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
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    T Adams and M Cuello

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Last reviewed: 
01 Apr 2021
Next review due: 
01 Apr 2024

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