What increases my risk of vaginal cancer?

Older woman talking to her doctor

The cause of vaginal cancer is unknown. But there are certain things called risk factors that can increase your chance of developing the disease. These include:

  • Age: Most vaginal cancers are diagnosed in women aged of 50-70. It is more common in women who have not had children. 
  • HPV virus: HPV infections can cause abnormal changes in your vagina (VAIN (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia). If they are left untreated, there is a slightly higher risk of getting vaginal cancer. HPV is a virus passed on during sexual contact. Read more about HPV and how it increases the risk of some cancers. 
  • Previous radiotherapy to the pelvic area: This slightly increases the risk but it’s rare. 
  • Exposure to DES: Being exposed to a hormone called DES (diethylstilbestrol) while you were in the womb causes one type of adenocarcinoma of the vagina. It is still very rare.

Having a risk factor doesn’t mean you will definitely get cancer. Sometimes people with no risk factors get the disease. If you’re worried, talk to your GP or talk to one of our cancer nurses. Call the Cancer Nurseline on 1800 200 700 or visit a Daffodil Centre. 

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