Am I At Risk for Vaginal Cancer?

There is no way to know for sure if you're going to get vaginal cancer. And there is no known way to prevent it. Certain factors can make you more likely to get this type of cancer than another woman. These are called risk factors. Unfortunately, doctors do not know what causes vaginal cancer. Most women who develop it have no known risk factors at all. The risk factors that have been found only slightly raise your chances of getting the disease. Still, tell your doctor if you agree with any of the bolded statements.

I am older than 60.

Most women are older than 60 when diagnosed with vaginal cancer.

I have HPV.

Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of viruses that can cause genital warts or precancerous disease. If you are infected with certain subtypes of HPV, you may be more at risk for vaginal squamous cell carcinoma. Other factors can increase your risk for HPV infection and vaginal cancer. These include having intercourse in your early teens, having many sexual partners, having unprotected sex at any age, having HIV, or having a suppressed immune system after an organ transplant.

I have cervical cancer.

Having cervical cancer or a precancerous condition of the cervix may increase your risk for squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina. This may be true because these cancers share similar risk factors.

I smoke.

Just as smoking increases the risk for cervical cancer, it may also increase the risk for vaginal cancer.

My mother took DES.

If your mother took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) when pregnant with you, you may be more at risk for getting clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina.

I have vaginal adenosis.

This is a change in the cells lining the vagina. Normally, the cells of the vaginal lining are flat squamous cells. But, in some women, areas of the vagina may develop cells that look more like those found in either the glands of the lower uterus or the upper uterine lining. This is called vaginal adenosis. It happens in almost all women who were exposed to DES in utero. In women with adenosis who were not exposed to DES, the risk for clear cell adenocarcinoma is not known.

I have vaginal irritation.

In some women, stretching of the pelvic ligaments may cause the uterus to sag into the vagina or even extend outside the vagina. This is called uterine prolapse. It can be treated by surgery or by wearing a pessary, a device to keep the uterus in place. Some studies suggest that long-term (chronic) irritation of the vagina in women using a pessary may slightly increase the risk of squamous cell vaginal cancer, but no studies to date have definitely shown this to be true.

I have HIV.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus), the virus that causes AIDS, also increases the risk of vaginal cancer.

Medical Reviewer: [Jennifer Kanipe, RN, BSN, Monk, Bradley J. MD, FACOG, FACS , Stump-Sutliff, Kim RN, MSN, AOCNS, Temple, Susan Vogt RN, MSN, AOCN] Last Annual Review Date: 2011-02-23T00:00:00-07:00 Copyright: © 2007 CancerSource, 280 Summer Street, 9th Floor, Boston, MA 02210. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.

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