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What Are the Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer?

By Alicia Sparks
Updated May 17, 2024
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Often, the symptoms of vaginal cancer go undiagnosed because most of them are similar to symptoms of less severe conditions. Irregular vaginal bleeding, for example, could be confused with pregnancy or the use of certain birth control methods. Likewise, painful urination could be confused with a urinary tract infection. On the other hand, many women do not experience vaginal cancer symptoms until the disease begins to progress. Couple the ambiguity or complete lack of symptoms with the rare nature of vaginal cancer and it is easy to understand why regular doctor appointments and exams are essential for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

Some examples of symptoms of vaginal cancer that could be confused with other kinds of symptoms include an unusual discharge, irregular vaginal bleeding, and changes in urination. Generally, these symptoms are abnormal enough to avoid going unnoticed. For example, the discharge usually is watery and may smell like blood, and the irregular vaginal bleeding typically happens after intercourse or when a woman has already gone through menopause. Changes in urination might include painful urination. Some women might experience constipation and pain during intercourse, as well as pelvic pain, which can signal the cancer has started to spread.

Perhaps the least confusing of the symptoms of vaginal cancer is that of a vaginal mass. Vaginal cancer is a cancer of the vaginal tissue, and not of the more internal female reproductive organs such as the cervix and uterus. Therefore, a woman might discover the mass before her physician does. Sometimes, a vaginal mass is not anything more than a cyst, which can be monitored or removed if it causes adverse symptoms. To determine whether the mass is a cyst or a cancerous malignancy, the physician most likely will order a biopsy.

Vaginal cancer is one of the rare cancers, estimated to affect only 2,000 women a year in the United States. Given that rarity, and that many symptoms of vaginal cancer are similar to symptoms of other less serious conditions, a proper diagnosis sometimes is delayed. Routine Pap smears can detect vaginal cancer, and women who experience any unusual symptoms should make appointments with their physicians. Even if the symptoms are not indicative of vaginal cancer, they are still abnormal and require an accurate diagnosis and treatment. If a woman receives a vaginal cancer diagnosis, her physician might also check for other types of reproductive cancers, as they often occur simultaneously.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

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