There are several types of vaginal cancer. In general, the condition is classified based on the type of cell in which the cancer originates. Sometimes, cancer that develops in another part of the body spreads (metastasizes) to the vagina. When this happens, the cancer is named for the part of the body where it originated, but is described as metastatic, which indicates that it has spread. For instance, cancer that starts in the cervix and spreads to the vagina is called metastatic cervical cancer. Additionally (although less commonly), there are also primary vaginal cancers, which original in the cells of the vaginal wall or other tissues within the vagina.
The types of vaginal cancer as classified by their cellular makeup include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma – The most common type of vaginal cancer, squamous cell carcinoma develops very slowly in the cells that line the vagina. This cancer may be preceded by vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), a precancerous condition found most often in women who have had hysterectomies (removal of the uterus), cervical cancer or precancerous conditions of the cervix.
- Adenocarcinoma – This type of cancer starts in the gland cells of the vagina and is most often found in women over age 50. Clear cell adenocarcinoma (an adenocarcinoma subtype) may be found in younger women who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic form of estrogen, in utero (between 1938 and 1971, DES was sometimes prescribed to pregnant women to help prevent miscarriage).
- Melanoma – This relatively rare form of vaginal cancer develops in the vaginal cells that give the skin color. It most commonly develops on the lower or outer parts of the vagina, rather than the internal structures.
- Sarcoma – This very rare type of vaginal cancer begins within the connective tissues that make up walls of the vagina. Rhabdomyosarcoma (a subtype) may be found in children, but most pediatric rhabdomyosarcomas are found in sites other than the vagina, such as the arms or legs.
Women who turn to Moffitt Cancer Center for all types of vaginal cancer treatment are evaluated and monitored by a multispecialty team of experts. These nationally renowned medical professionals work closely together to develop highly individualized treatment plans that include the most advanced vaginal cancer therapies available. Our tumor board consists of surgical, medical, radiation and gynecologic oncologists; reconstructive surgeons; diagnostic radiologists; pathologists and a specially trained support staff – all of whom specialize in treating gynecologic cancers.
As a high-volume cancer center, Moffitt treats more women each year with vaginal cancer than most other oncologists in the nation. This provides us with a rare level of expertise and translates directly to outcomes that exceed the national average and better quality of life for our patients.
If you’d like to learn more about the specific types of vaginal cancer and the latest advances in treatments, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. Referrals are unnecessary at Moffitt.