Causes and prevention of cancer of the vagina
The exact cause of vaginal cancer is unknown. But there are certain things called risk factors that can increase your chance of getting the disease. These include:
- Age: Cancer of the vagina usually affects women over the age of 60. It is more common in women who have not had children.
- Human papilloma virus (HPV): HPV is a virus passed on during sexual contact. Ongoing HPV infections can cause abnormal changes in your cervix and vagina. These changes are known as precancerous changes or CIN (cervical intraepithelial neoplasia) and VIN (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia). If they are left untreated, there is a slightly higher risk of getting vaginal cancer. As you get older and have gone through the menopause, you are more likely to develop it.
- Radiotherapy to pelvis: Women who have had radiotherapy to the pelvic area also have a slightly higher risk. But it is still very rare.
- Hormone drug DES: A hormone drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES) causes one type of adenocarcinoma of the vagina. Over thirty years’ ago, DES was prescribed to pregnant women to prevent miscarriages. Female children of the women who took DES have an increased risk of adenocarcinoma of the vagina. But it is still very rare.
If you feel you may be at risk, first talk to your family doctor (GP) about your concerns. He or she may advise you to visit a specialist.