It's not clear what causes vaginal cancer. In general, cancer begins when healthy cells acquire a genetic mutation that turns normal cells into abnormal cells.
Healthy cells grow and multiply at a set rate, eventually dying at a set time. Cancer cells grow and multiply out of control, and they don't die. The accumulating abnormal cells form a mass (tumor).
Cancer cells invade nearby tissues and can break off from an initial tumor to spread elsewhere in the body (metastasize).
Types of vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer is divided into different types based on the type of cell where the cancer began. Vaginal cancer types include:
Apr. 27, 2013
- Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the surface of the vagina, is the most common type
- Vaginal adenocarcinoma, which begins in the glandular cells on the surface of your vagina
- Vaginal melanoma, which develops in the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) of your vagina
- Vaginal sarcoma, which develops in the connective tissue cells or muscles cells in the walls of your vagina
- Abeloff MD, et al. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2008. http://www.mdconsult.com/das/book/body/208746819-4/0/1709/0.html. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.
- Vaginal cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/vaginal/patient. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.
- Lentz GM, et al. Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.mdconsult.com/books/linkTo?type=bookPage&isbn=978-0-323-06986-1&eid=4-u1.0-B978-0-323-06986-1..C2009-0-48752-X--TOP. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.
- Hoffman BL, et al. Williams Gynecology. 2nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://accessmedicine.com/resourceTOC.aspx?resourceID=768. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.
- Total pelvic exenteration. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/sexualityforthewoman/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer-tot-pelvic-exenterat. Accessed Jan. 28, 2013.
- Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/takingtime. Accessed Jan. 29, 2013.