Vaginal cancer refers to an abnormal, cancerous growth in the tissues of the birth canal (vagina).
Vaginal cancer is rare and accounts for only 1% to 2% of all gynecologic cancers. In the United States, there are approximately 2, 000 cases of vaginal cancer diagnosed, and approximately 600 deaths, each year. Vaginal cancer can be either primary or metastatic. Cancer that originates in the vagina is called primary vaginal cancer; if cancer spreads to the vagina from another site, it is called metastatic cancer. Eighty-percent of vaginal cancers are metastatic. Metastatic cancers carry the name of the primary cancer site. For instance, cancer that has spread from the cervix to the vagina would be called "metastatic cervical cancer, " not "vaginal cancer."
The vagina is a short tube that extends from the outer female genitalia (vulva) to the opening to the uterus (cervix). It serves to receive the penis during sexual intercourse, as an outlet for shed tissue and blood during menstruation, and as a passageway for a baby during childbirth. Most cancers are located in the upper third of the vagina.
Squamous carcinoma is the most common type of vaginal cancer and accounts for 85% of cases. Infrequent types of vaginal cancer include adenocarcinomas, melanoma, and sarcomas. Adenocarcinoma is usually found in young women (ages 12 to 30 years) while squamous cell cancer (squamous carcinoma) is usually found in older women (ages 60 to 80 years). Although vaginal melanoma can afflict adult women of any age, women are on average in their fifties at the time of diagnosis.
Vaginal cancer is most common in women who are between the ages of 60 and 80.
Belinda Rowland Ph.D., The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,