Several factors can affect vaginal cancer survival rates. They include the stage and type of cancer as well as your age. Effective treatments for vaginal cancer are available, especially if it’s found early.

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Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer. It typically forms in the vaginal lining but can be found anywhere in the vagina.

Once diagnosed, vaginal cancer is treatable. However, a few factors can affect the survival rate for this cancer.

Continue reading to take a deep dive into the survival rates for vaginal cancer.

One of the most important factors affecting survival rates of vaginal cancer is the stage of the cancer at the time it’s diagnosed. A cancer’s stage is a reflection of how far it has spread.

According to the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) Program from the National Cancer Institute, the 5-year relative survival rates for vaginal cancer between 2014 and 2020 were:

  • 76.8% for cancer that’s only in the vagina
  • 58.5% for cancer that has spread into nearby tissues and lymph nodes
  • 21.5% for cancer that has metastasized (spread distantly)
  • 54.5% for all stages

Five-year relative survival rates estimate the percentage of people with a condition who are alive 5 years after their diagnosis compared with people who do not have the condition. While they can be informative, survival rates don’t account for individual factors or recent advances in treatment.

Other factors that can influence survival rates for vaginal cancer include:

For many cancers, including vaginal cancer, older age at diagnosis is associated with a reduced survival rate.

A potential explanation is that frailty is more common in older age. Older adults may also have more underlying conditions. These factors can complicate treatment.

According to the SEER Program, the 5-year relative survival rates by age for vaginal cancer between 2014 and 2020 were:

  • 74.3% for people under 50 years
  • 63.6% for people between 50 and 64 years
  • 44% for people over 65 years
  • 54.5% for all ages

Most vaginal cancers are diagnosed at an older age. The American Cancer Society notes that the average age at diagnosis of vaginal cancer is 67 years.

Certain types of vaginal cancer may be more aggressive, difficult to treat, or both. Because of this, the type of vaginal cancer can also affect survival.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of vaginal cancer, making up almost 90% of diagnoses.

Squamous cells are thin, flat cells that line the vagina. These cells are most common in the upper part of the vagina, close to the cervix.

A 2021 review notes that 5-year relative survival rates can vary between 35% and 78%. It also cites older research that breaks down survival by stage:

  • 85% for stage 1 vaginal cancer
  • 78% for stage 2 vaginal cancer
  • 58% for stages 3 or 4 vaginal cancer

Adenocarcinoma

Vaginal adenocarcinoma makes up about 10% of all vaginal cancers. An adenocarcinoma is a cancer that forms in glandular tissues that are found lining organs like the vagina.

Compared with squamous cell carcinomas, adenocarcinomas have a less favorable outlook.

According to a 2021 case report, vaginal adenocarcinomas associated with exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic form of estrogen that’s now rarely prescribed, have a 5-year survival of 78%.

Non-DES-associated adenocarcinomas have a 5-year survival rate of 35%.

Melanoma

Melanoma is a type of cancer that forms in the pigment-producing cells that give color to our skin. Vaginal melanoma is extremely rare, making up less than 3% of vaginal cancer diagnoses.

The outlook for vaginal melanoma is not favorable. Researchers estimate 5-year survival rates of 5% to 25% for this type of vaginal cancer.

Vaginal cancer is rare overall. However, several things can increase your risk for it.

According to the American Cancer Society, risk factors include:

A note on risk factors

Having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will certainly get vaginal cancer in the future. It simply means you may be at a higher risk of vaginal cancer than people without risk factors.

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Vaginal cancer is treatable, especially if it’s diagnosed in an early stage. The potential treatment options for vaginal cancer can include one or a combination of the following:

The type of treatment that’s recommended can depend on many factors. A few examples include the type of vaginal cancer, its stage, and your age and overall health.

Receiving a cancer diagnosis can feel overwhelming. Check out the resources below for support:

Your care team is also a valuable resource. They can help recommend support resources available to you in your area that may not be easy to find online.

What is the first stage of vaginal cancer?

The first stage of vaginal cancer refers to when the cancer has only started to grow in the vagina and has not spread to distant sites in the body.

What are the symptoms of stage 1 vulvar cancer?

Symptoms of stage 1 vulvar cancer may include itching or soreness in the vulva, pain when you pee, and a lump, wart, or mole in the vulva.

What are the symptoms of vaginal cancer?

Symptoms of vaginal cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pain during sex, or a mass you can feel.

Many factors can affect vaginal cancer survival rates. One of the most important factors is the stage, or extent, of the cancer when it’s diagnosed.

Your age and the type of vaginal cancer you have can also affect survival. Other things that may influence vaginal cancer survival include the size and location of the tumor and whether it has spread to lymph nodes.

Vaginal cancer is treatable. Your outlook is improved if the cancer is found early. This is why it’s important to speak with a doctor if you notice any potential symptoms.