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Vaginal Cancer: Introduction

What is cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body change (mutate) and grow out of control. To help you understand what happens with 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 they're damaged or your body doesn't 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. The vagina is also known as the birth canal. It's 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

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

These are other, very rare types of vaginal cancer:

  • Adenocarcinomas. These develop in the gland tissue in your vagina.

  • Malignant melanomas. These are a form of skin cancer, which often affects the lower or outer part of your vagina.

  • Sarcomas. These 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: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2020
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