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Am I At Risk for Vaginal Cancer?

Feb 5, 2009

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

I am older than age 60.

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

I have HPV.

Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a group of viruses that can cause genital warts and have been linked to many types of cancer and precancerous disease. If you are infected with certain types of HPV, you may be at greater risk for vaginal cancers. Other factors can increase your risk for HPV infection and vaginal cancer. These include having intercourse in your early teens, many sexual partners, unprotected sex at any age, HIV, or a suppressed immune system, such as after an organ transplant or after taking immunosuppressant drugs 

I have cervical cancer.

Cervical cancer, or a precancerous condition of your 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 your risk for many different cancers, it also increases your risk for vaginal cancer.

I drink alcohol.

Alcohol may increase your risk for vaginal cancer. Most studies that look at the link between alcohol and vaginal cancer have been inconclusive.

My mother took DES.

If your mother took the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant with you, you are at higher risk of getting clear cell adenocarcinoma of the vagina.

I have vaginal adenosis.

In some women, areas of their vagina may develop cells that look more like those found in either the glands of their lower uterus, or in the lining of their upper uterus. This is called vaginal adenosis. The condition occurs 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 still exists, but is very low.

I have long-term vaginal irritation.

If you have weakened pelvic ligaments, your uterus may extend, or prolapse, into your vagina, or even extend outside your vagina. This is called uterine prolapse. A surgeon can treat this condition, or you can wear a pessary. This is a device that helps hold your uterus in place. Some studies suggest that long-term (chronic) irritation of the vagina in women using a pessary may slightly increase their risk for squamous cell vaginal cancer. However, no studies to date have definitively shown this to be true.

I have HIV.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, also increases your risk for vaginal cancer.

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