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Causes - Vaginal cancer

Main causes of vaginal cancer

More than half of all vaginal cancers are caused by an infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV).

You can get HPV from:

  • any skin-to-skin contact of the genital area
  • vaginal, anal or oral sex
  • sharing sex toys

Who is more likely to get vaginal cancer

Women and anyone with a vagina can get vaginal cancer, including:

  • trans and non-binary people with a vagina, or who have parts of their vagina left from gender surgery
  • people who have had a hysterectomy

You might also be more likely to get vaginal cancer if:

  • you have had an HPV infection
  • precancerous cells have been found in your cervix (CIN) or vagina (VAIN)
  • you have had cervical cancer
  • you are 75 and over – vaginal cancer is more common in older women
  • you have lupus, a condition that affects your immune system
  • you have HIV or AIDS
  • your mother took the hormonal drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant with you – your GP can discuss these risks with you
  • you have had womb cancer, especially if you had radiotherapy

How to lower your chance of getting vaginal cancer

You cannot always prevent vaginal cancer.

But as there's a link between vaginal cancer and HPV, cervical screening and HPV vaccination are the best ways to protect yourself.

  • All women and people with a cervix between the ages of 25 and 64 are invited for regular cervical screening. It helps find and treat any changes in the cells of the cervix before they turn into cancer.
  • All children aged 12 to 13 are offered the HPV vaccine. It helps protect against all cancers caused by HPV, as well as genital warts.

There are some things you can do to lower your chance of getting vaginal cancer.

Do

  • use condoms, which lower your chance of getting HPV – but they do not cover all the skin around your genitals, so you're not fully protected

  • quit smoking, as smoking can weaken your immune system and the chemicals in cigarettes can also cause cervical cancer

  • eat a balanced diet to help support your immune system

Information:

It's important to get any symptoms of vaginal cancer checked by a GP.

Page last reviewed: 03 December 2021
Next review due: 03 December 2024