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Vaginal Cancer

Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

Vaginal cancer is extremely rare, with only 3,100 women in the United States expected to be diagnosed with the disease every year.

The experienced, collaborative team of specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combines the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a comprehensive and compassionate approach to care, creating a program of personalized medicine and patient-centered care for each individual diagnosed with vaginal cancer.

Drawing from the diverse experience of physicians, surgeons, nurses, researchers and a host of other highly trained healthcare professionals, the Kellogg Cancer Center team works collaboratively and is dedicated to putting patients—and families—at the center of a healthcare experience that delivers compassionate, quality care.

Vaginal Cancer Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis

The majority of vaginal cancer is the result of the spread of a different cancer, such as cervical or endometrial cancer, into the vagina. Primary vaginal cancer is very rare. Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the first trimester of pregnancy are at increased risk for developing vaginal cancer. However, DES has not been administered during pregnancy for several decades and thus the overall risk of DES-related cancer of the vagina is very low.

Most women with early stage vaginal cancer will not experience any symptoms. However, most women with advanced vaginal cancer can experience the following symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge
  • Bleeding during and/or after sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic or vaginal pain

Symptoms may not develop until the cancer has advanced, but routine examinations including pelvic exams and pap smears can help detect vaginal cancer in its early stages.

If suspicious lesions are found in the vaginal area, your doctor may recommend that a biopsy be performed to determine if cancer is present. If a Pap smear is abnormal and the vagina does not have any visible abnormalities, colposcopy (an examination of the vagina and cervix using a special microscope) may be performed to locate abnormal areas for biopsy. If more tests are necessary, a CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis and a chest x-ray may be ordered.

If a diagnosis of vaginal cancer is made, your physician then determines the severity or stage of the cancer. Each cancer type has its own classification system.

Personalized Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the type of cancer, the area of vagina involved, and the age and health of the patient. Surgery is sometimes used to remove the cancer, but most patients are treated with radiation therapy. If the tumor is actually cervical cancer extending into the vagina, then radiation is given with chemotherapy at the same time. 

Every week, our multidisciplinary team meets in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss each patient’s case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. For vaginal cancer, your team may include your gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist, geneticist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for each patient.

Patients are at the center of this multidisciplinary team, and Kellogg staff arrange for them to be seen by their multidisciplinary team at one appointment, not only for their convenience but to provide a consensus on their course of treatment. Our use of one of the most advanced Electronic Medical Record (EMR) systems in the country enhances our open communication and promotes collaboration in our patient care.

Additional Patient Support

Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information

For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2112.