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Vaginal Cancer Risks and Prevention

The majority of vaginal cancers are caused by high-risk strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). Having cervical precancer or cervical cancer also raises the risk of developing vaginal cancer.

If you have been diagnosed with HPV, cervical precancer or cervical cancer, talk to your gynecologist about your vaginal cancer risk.

Other risk factors for vaginal cancer include:

  • Being 60 or older
  • Smoking
  • A history of abnormal cells or cancer in the cervix or uterus
  • A hysterectomy for health problems that affect the uterus
  • Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) while in the womb — this is linked to clear cell adenocarcinoma

Vaginal cancer prevention

There are no screening tests for vaginal cancer, but you can reduce your chance of developing vaginal cancer and treat precancerous conditions in several ways:

  • Get an annual pelvic exam. This is the best way to check your overall reproductive health. During this visit, you may get an HPV test to check for high-risk (cancer-causing) strains of HPV and a Pap test to check for abnormal or precancerous cells on the cervix. Pap tests are not needed if you have had a hysterectomy.
  • Get the HPV vaccine. This will help prevent infection with high-risk strains of HPV. HPV can cause multiple gynecologic cancers, as well as anal cancer and head and neck cancer. The HPV vaccine is available for certain adults. Ask your doctor if it is right for you.
  • Practice safe sex. Because HPV is a sexually transmitted virus, practicing safe sex can help prevent exposure. While condoms will not fully protect you against contracting HPV, because the virus can affect areas not covered by a condom, they do help in HPV prevention.
  • Quit smoking. This reduces your risk for multiple cancer types.