Types of vaginal cancer


There are 2 main types of primary vaginal cancers. They are named after the cells from which they develop: 

  • Squamous cell carcinoma originates from the skin cells in the lining of the vagina and accounts for most (9 out of 10) vaginal cancers.  
  • Adenocarcinoma is more rare (1 out of 10 vaginal cancers). It starts in the glandular cells in the lining of the vagina.  

Other very rare types of vaginal cancer include melanoma, small cell carcinoma, sarcoma and lymphoma. 

Metastatic (secondary) vaginal cancer

Metastatic cancer in the vagina, or secondary vaginal cancer, has spread from other parts of the body and is more common than primary vaginal cancer. Secondary vaginal cancer usually starts in the cervix, the lining of the womb (the endometrium), the vulva, or nearby organs such as the bladder or bowel and spreads to the vagina. 

Pre-cancerous vaginal cell changes

Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) is a pre-cancerous condition where some cells look abnormal under a microscope. It is sometimes referred to as carcinoma in situ.  

VAIN rarely causes symptoms. Many women find out they have VAIN because they are at risk of other types of gynaecological cancer and are screened. VAIN is most often diagnosed in middle-aged women, and often accompanies similar abnormalities on the cervix and on the vulva.