Vaginal Cancer – Foundation for Women's Cancer

Vaginal Cancer

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2019 Vaginal Cancer 

About 5,170 new cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., making it one of the rarest of gynecological cancers. Advances continue to be made to help better understand the nature of this disease and subsequently develop better treatments, which lead to improved outcomes.

Prevention Is Possible

About two-thirds of all cases of vaginal cancer are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). The good news is that women can protect themselves against HPV-related infection with a vaccine. The most recent version of the HPV vaccine, a nonavalent vaccine (defined by the National Cancer Institute), was approved by the FDA in 2017 and is the same vaccine used to prevent cervical cancers. 

To learn more information about the HPV vaccine, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

HPV vaccine helps minimize lifetime risk of vaginal cancer

2/3 of vaginal cancers are caused by HPV

Pap Tests Used

There aren’t any tests that screen specifically for vaginal cancer. But Pap tests, which are designed to detect precancers of the cervix, can screen for abnormal cells before they become invasive cancers, including vaginal.

The guidelines for Pap tests have changed dramatically over the years. These tests are recommended for all women aged 21-65 years and should be performed on an interval schedule prescribed by a physician. Although vaginal cancer can affect women at any age, half of all cases are found in women aged 70 years and older. It is best to consult with your physician about the right screening interval for you. Treatment of this disease at an early stage can dramatically affect your survival rate.

Cut your risk for vaginal cancer by more than half by avoiding smoking

Clinical Trials Lead to Important Discoveries

The standard of care for treating vaginal cancer is primarily a combination of chemotherapy and radiation, or radiation alone, if the patient is unable to tolerate chemotherapy. Surgery may also be an option for select women. But advances in treatment are always being made with the help of clinical trials.

The National Cancer Institute sponsored a clinical trial to determine whether a novel drug called triapine helps stop tumor growth more effectively when added to chemoradiation, as opposed to using chemoradiation alone. Women with stage II-IVA vaginal cancer were eligible for this trial; results are pending as of late 2018. If this trial is positive, chemoradiation with triapine could become a preferred therapy for treating vaginal cancer.

Clinical trials remain the conduit for developing and evaluating more effective and less toxic therapies. For example, a study published in 2007 found that adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy when treating cervical cancer significantly improved survival. Chemoradiation is now the standard of care.

Because vaginal cancer is rare, it is challenging to perform prospective clinical trials focused solely on this disease. Learn more about clinical trials and how you may be able to participate in one.

Clinical trials lead to breakthroughs in cancer treatment

Survival Rates Increasing

The CDC reported that vaginal cancer rates declined during the period 1999-2015. This decrease was attributed to screening as well as HPV vaccination. The development of the HPV vaccine is a milestone in the treatment of gynecologic cancers, but HPV vaccination rates in the U.S are underwhelming and not keeping pace with other countries such as Australia, which is headed toward eliminating cervical cancer as a public health concern by 2028. Efforts to promote the safety and effectiveness of the HPV vaccine are underway. To learn more information about the HPV vaccine, visit the CDC.

2019 State of Gynecologic Cancers