According to data from 2012–2018, those with vaginal cancer have a 51% likelihood of surviving for at least 5 years from the date of their diagnosis compared with people without the disease. This is known as a relative survival rate.
However, the relative survival rate will vary according to several factors, including how advanced the cancer is, the type of cancer, a person’s age, and response to treatment.
According to the
Read on to learn more about the prognosis for vaginal cancer.
The Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) database tracks cancer survival rates, including those of people with vaginal cancer.
The database recorded the likelihood that people with vaginal cancer would survive for at least 5 years after their diagnosis in comparison with those without the condition using data from between
The results break down the data according to how far the cancer has spread in each individual:
|SEER level of spread
|5-year survival rate
|only in the vaginal wall
|spread to nearby structures or lymph nodes
|spread to other parts of the body – for instance, the lungs, liver, or bones
These 5-year survival rate statistics can be useful for providing an overview, but they do not take into account other important factors that affect the prognosis, such as:
- overall health
- the type of vaginal cancer
- response to treatment
Additionally, cancer treatments improve all the time, so these statistics may not be accurate today.
Age is an important factor in cancer prognosis. A 2020 study found an association between older age and a worse vaginal cancer prognosis, regardless of the stage of the disease. The 5-year survival rates for different age groups were:
- 66.6% for 18–49 year olds
- 65.5% for 50–69 year olds
- 50.0% for 70–79 year olds
- 38.5% for those aged 80 and over
Different types of vaginal cancer can also have different outlooks.
Squamous cell carcinoma
Squamous cell carcinomas are the most common type of vaginal cancer, accounting for almost
Without treatment, squamous cell carcinomas can grow deeper into or through the vaginal wall. They can then spread to nearby tissues and more distant parts of the body, such as the lungs, liver, or bones.
Adenocarcinomas start in gland cells and account for around 1 in 10 vaginal cancer cases.
Doctors most commonly find vaginal adenocarcinomas in females over 50 years of age. However, younger females exposed to a synthetic form of estrogen known as diethylstilbestrol when they were in the womb more commonly develop a type called clear cell adenocarcinoma.
In the 2020 study using data from 2004 to 2014, the 5-year relative survival rate for adenocarcinoma in the vagina was 59.3%.
Fewer than 3% of vaginal cancers are carcinomas, which grow from deep inside the vaginal wall. In the study, the 5-year relative survival rate for this type of cancer was 58.8%.
It is important to note that vaginal and vulvar cancer have different prognoses.
The vagina is the tube that runs from the lowest part of the uterus, or the cervix, to the vaginal opening. It does not include the external genitalia, such as the labia and clitoris.
The external female genitalia is known as the vulva. Cancer affecting the vulva is known as vulvar cancer, and generally, it has a better outlook than vaginal cancer.
While the overall 5-year relative survival rate for vaginal cancer is
In addition to age, the factors that influence the prognosis for vaginal cancer include:
- Cancer stage and size: In the 2020 study, stage 1 vaginal cancer had a 76.4% five-year relative survival rate, whereas stage 4 was only 22.5%. Tumor size also matters. The researchers noted that tumors of 4 centimeters (cm) or less had a 71.8% five-year survival rate compared to 45.4% for tumors greater than 4 cm.
- Cancer type: The same study suggests an association between melanoma and a more unfavorable prognosis at all stages of vaginal cancer.
- Treatment: The type of treatment a person receives also plays a role. In the study, people who had surgery had a 72.1% five-year survival rate compared with 48.9% of those who did not. Similarly, individuals who had radiation therapy had a 59.4% five-year survival rate compared to 52.5% in people who did not.
The risk factors that affect the outlook for cervical cancer may also influence the outlook for vaginal cancer, such as whether a person smokes or has human papillomavirus. However, more research is necessary to understand the influence of these factors.
Although the relative survival rates for vaginal cancer are not as high as some other cancer types, it is still treatable. Current treatment options for vaginal cancer include:
- radiation therapy
A person’s treatment options will depend on:
- the cancer stage and size
- the cancer type
- the proximity to other organs that a type of treatment could damage
- whether they have had a hysterectomy
- whether they have previously had radiation therapy on their pelvis
- overall health status
- personal preferences
The overall 5-year relative survival rate for vaginal cancer is
Additionally, this figure comes from data that may be outdated, as cancer treatments are improving over time.
The prognosis for vaginal cancer improves the earlier doctors detect the disease. If a person has any concerns, they should speak with a medical professional as soon as possible.