Vaginal Cancer Signs and Symptoms

Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that forms in the vaginal tissue. It affects only about 5,000 people in the United States each year. In the early stages, vaginal cancer does not usually cause any noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses, however, symptoms begin to appear. But these symptoms are not exclusive to vaginal cancer. They can also be symptoms of other, less serious conditions.

A woman explaining her problems to her doctor

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Vaginal cancer's rarity and the vagueness of its symptoms can make it difficult to diagnose. In fact, diagnosis delays are not uncommon. For a small number of women do not experience any symptoms prior to diagnosis, a routine Pap smear may lead to detection.

Symptoms include:

Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding: In reference to vaginal cancer, abnormal vaginal bleeding is when bleeding occurs after sexual intercourse and/or in women who have completed menopause. It is the most common symptom of vaginal cancer and is often one of the first symptoms experienced. Postmenopausal and post-coital bleeding are non-specific and also commonly associated with many other gynecologic diseases and conditions.

Vaginal Discharge: Although vaginal discharge is common in many women and often not a concern, abnormal or unusual vaginal discharge, with or without a blood-tinge or odor, can be related to vaginal cancer. This is incredibly rare, and much more likely to be due to something much less worrisome, but it should be evaluated by your healthcare provider.

Changes in Urination: If you find you are urinating more frequently, try to determine the cause. It may be related to an increase in fluid intake, the consumption of caffeinated beverages, or the presence of a urinary tract infection, but it can also be caused by more serious conditions. Changes in urination can also include pain during urination and blood in the urine. Though the presence of blood may not always be detectable by the naked eye, some women may notice pink tinges/streaks in their panties or when wiping with toilet paper.

Pelvic Pain: Pelvic pain generally occurs when vaginal cancer has begun to spread. Pelvic pain can be described as pain or pressure felt anywhere in the abdomen below the navel. It may be intermittent or constant. Many women describe pelvic pain as a dull ache that may include sharp pains.

Vaginal Mass: A vaginal mass or lump that can be felt either by you or your healthcare provider can be a symptom of vaginal cancer. There can be several causes of vaginal masses, including vaginal cysts. A biopsy may be necessary to determine if the mass is cancerous or not.

Changes in Bowel Movements: Changes in bowel function can indicate many conditions, including vaginal cancer. As the disease progresses, you may experience chronic constipation, black/tarry stools, and a feeling as if the bowels have not been completely emptied after having a bowel movement.

2 Sources
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  1. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Vaginal Cancer: Statistics.

  2. American Cancer Society. Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer.

By Lisa Fayed
Lisa Fayed is a freelance medical writer, cancer educator and patient advocate.