Vaginal cancer types

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.

There are two primary types of vaginal cancer:

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of vaginal cancer, accounting for 70 percent of cases. These cancers develop from the thin, flat epithelial cells that line the surface of the vagina. Squamous cell carcinomas of the vagina tend to grow slowly and may develop from a precancerous condition known as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), in which abnormal cells are found in the very top surface of the vaginal lining.

Adenocarcinoma accounts for approximately 15 percent of vaginal cancers. These cancers begin in the gland cells of the vagina. They occur most frequently in women over the age of 50, but a specific subtype known as clear cell adenocarcinoma may occur in women whose mothers were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) while they were pregnant.

Other types of cancers, such as melanomas and sarcomas, may also develop in the vagina. In addition, certain cancers may spread to the vagina from their original site, such as uterine, cervical, rectal or bladder cancers. These cancers are treated according to the primary cancer type.

Next topic: What are the stages of vaginal cancer?

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