Symptoms and diagnosis of cancer of the vagina

Symptoms

Many vaginal cancers do not cause any symptoms in the early stages. The symptoms of vaginal cancer include:

  • Vaginal bleeding, often after sex
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain during sex
  • A lump or swelling
  • An itch in the vagina that won’t go away
  • Frequency and discomfort when passing urine
  • Pain in the back passage (rectum)

Remember these symptoms can be caused by complaints other than cancer, but do have them checked by your doctor.

Screening

Testing for vaginal cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national screening programme in Ireland for vaginal cancer at present. Talk to your GP if you feel you are at risk.

Diagnosis

Visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your GP has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital to see a specialist called a gynaecologist. You may need the following tests:

  • Pelvic exam
  • Colposcopy
  • Biopsy

Pelvic exam: This is a physical exam of your vagina. Your doctor might also do an internal vaginal exam by putting a gloved finger into your vagina to check for any abnormal changes.

Colposcopy: If a smear test result shows abnormal cell changes, you will need a colposcopy. This test uses a small microscope with a bright light to help your doctor examine your vagina and check for any abnormal changes.

Biopsy: In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is taken from your vagina and sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope. This test can be done during a colposcopy and under local anaesthetic.

Other tests

These may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm