Vaginal and vulvar cancers are very rare.
When cancer starts in the vagina, it is called vaginal cancer. The vagina, also called the birth canal, is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
When cancer starts in the vulva, it is called vulvar cancer. The vulva is the outer part of the female genital organs. It has two folds of skin, called the labia. Vulvar cancer most often occurs on the inner edges of the labia.
The Pap test does not screen for vaginal and vulvar cancers. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.
What are the signs and symptoms of vaginal and vulvar cancers?
Most vaginal cancers do not cause signs or symptoms early on. When vaginal cancer does cause symptoms, they may include:
• Vaginal discharge or bleeding that is not normal for you. The bleeding may be abnormal because of how heavy it is, or when it happens, such as bleeding after you have gone through menopause; bleeding between periods; or any other bleeding that is longer or heavier than is normal for you.
• A change in bathroom habits, such as having blood in the stool or urine; going to the bathroom more often than usual; or feeling constipated.
• Pain in your pelvis or abdomen, especially when you pass urine or have sex.
Vulvar cancers often cause signs or symptoms including one or more of the following:
• Itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva that does not go away.
• Color changes on the skin of the vulva, where it is redder or whiter than normal for you.
• Skin changes on the vulva, including what looks like a rash or warts.
• Sores, lumps, or ulcers on the vulva that do not go away.
• Pain in your pelvis, especially when you urinate or have sex.
The following factors may increase a woman’s risk for vaginal or vulvar cancer:
• Having HPV.
• Having had cervical precancer or cervical cancer.
• Having a condition (such as HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS) that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.
• Having chronic vulvar itching or burning.
If one or more of these things is true for you, it does not mean you will get vaginal or vulvar cancer. But you should speak with your doctor to see if he or she recommends more frequent exams.
How can I prevent vaginal and vulvar cancers?
• Get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. If you are between the ages of 9 and 26, talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine.
• Take steps to reduce your risk of getting HPV or HIV, such as avoiding sex or limiting your number of sexual partners.
• Don’t smoke.
Inside Knowledge campaign’s vaginal and vulvar cancer fact sheet [PDF-980KB]