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Vaginal Cancer: Introduction

What is cancer?

Cancer is when cells in the body change and grow out of control. To help you understand what happens when you have cancer, let's look at how your body works normally. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them, and die when your body does not need them any longer.

Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn't need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. If cancer cells are in the body long enough, they can grow into (invade) nearby areas. They can even spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).

What is vaginal cancer?

Vaginal cancer starts in the cells of your vagina. This is also known as the birth canal. The vagina is the hollow, tube-like passageway between the bottom part of your uterus (cervix) and the outside of your body. It's the passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods.

Types of vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer starts in the cells of your vagina, also known as the birth canal. The vagina is a hollow, tube-like passageway between the bottom part of your uterus and the outside of your body.

Most vaginal cancers begin in the lining of your vagina, the epithelium. These are called vaginal squamous cell carcinomas. This type of vaginal cancer develops over many years. It develops from precancerous changes, called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN).

These are other, very rare types of vaginal cancer:

  • Adenocarcinomas, which develop in the glands of your vagina

  • Malignant melanomas, a form of skin cancer, which affect the lower or outer portion of your vagina

  • Sarcomas, which develop deep in the muscular wall of your vagina 

Talk with your healthcare provider

If you have questions about vaginal cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help you understand more about this cancer. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Last Review Date: 7/2/2015
© 2013 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.