Vaginal cancer stages

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 7, 2022.


Designing an individualized treatment plan for vaginal cancer begins with knowing the stage, or progression, of the disease. The disease stage is one of the most important factors in evaluating vaginal cancer treatment options.

How is vaginal cancer staged?

Vaginal cancer staging describes how large a cancer is, and the degree to which the disease has spread. The care team stages vaginal cancer using the American Joint Committee on Cancer’s TNM system, a commonly accepted method based on three key components, listed below.

T (tumor): This describes the primary tumor size.

N (node): This indicates whether the vaginal cancer cells have spread to regional lymph nodes.

M (metastasis): This refers to whether the cancer has metastasized (spread to distant areas of the body).

Once the individual T, N, M scores have been established, an overall stage is assigned.

Stages of vaginal cancer

Stage 0 vaginal cancer

This stage is also known as vaginal epithelial neoplasia 3 (VAIN 3), or carcinoma in situ. Cancer cells are restricted to the top epithelial layer of cells lining the vagina and have not invaded any deeper.

Stage 1 vaginal cancer

The cancer cells have invaded deeper tissue layers of the vagina, but they have not spread beyond the vagina to nearby structures or lymph nodes.

Stage 2 vaginal cancer

Cancer cells have reached the connective tissue surrounding the vagina but have not yet spread to nearby organs or lymph nodes.

Stage 3 vaginal cancer

Cancer has spread beyond the vagina to the walls of the pelvis and/or nearby lymph nodes, but it has not spread to distant organs.

Stage 4 vaginal cancer

Stage 4 vaginal cancer is divided into two separate subcategories, detailed below.

Stage 4A: The disease has spread beyond the vagina to nearby organs such as the bladder or rectum. Cancer cells may have reached nearby lymph nodes, but they haven't reached distant organs.

Stage 4B: This stage is the most advanced. Cancer cells have reached distant organs, such as the lungs.

Vaginal cancer survival rate

Identifying the stage of cancer not only helps the care team determine a treatment plan, it also helps predict a potential prognosis. This is achieved by calculating the percentage of people with vaginal cancer who survive at least five years after diagnosis compared to people who don’t have that type of cancer. It’s important to remember that this is only a statistic based on all people with vaginal cancer several years in the past, so individual patient experiences may vary. 

The American Cancer Society (ACS) shares vaginal cancer survival rates from the National Cancer Institute’s Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program. The survival rate for vaginal cancer is based on where the cancer started and how far the cancer has spread, as indicated below.

Localized: The cancer has not spread outside the vaginal wall. The five-year relative survival rate for localized vaginal cancer is about 69 percent.

Regional: The cancer has spread to nearby tissues or lymph nodes. The five-year relative survival rate for regional vaginal cancer is about 57 percent.

Distant: The cancer has spread to farther reaches of the body. The five-year relative survival rate for distant vaginal cancer is about 26 percent.

The overall five-year relative survival rate for vaginal cancer is 51 percent, according to the ACS.

Keep in mind that the survival rate for vaginal cancer depends on a variety of factors, including the patient’s age, overall health and the extent of the disease, so always talk to the care team about the patient’s individual prognosis.

Next topic: How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?

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