Reducing your risk for vaginal cancer

You may lower your risk of developing vaginal cancer by doing the following.

Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a risk factor for developing vaginal cancer. It is also a risk factor for developing precancerous conditions of the vagina and cervix.

The 3 HPV vaccines available in Canada are Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. These vaccines help protect against infection with HPV-16 and HPV-18, the 2 types of HPV most commonly associated with cancer. Gardasil 9 also protects against 5 other types of HPV that can cause cancer.

Only Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are approved to help prevent precancerous conditions of the vagina and vaginal cancer caused by an HPV infection. Cervarix may also protect against vaginal cancer, but it isn’t currently approved for this use.

Get vaccinated or have your children vaccinated through school-based programs where available. Talk to your doctor about which vaccine is right for you and when you should have it.

Practise safer sex

The only sure way to prevent HPV infection is to completely avoid any genital contact with another person. If you are sexually active, you can help protect against HPV by:

  • having as few sexual partners as possible
  • being in a monogamous relationship with someone who hasn’t had a lot of sexual partners
  • using a condom or other barriers safely

Using a condom or other barriers, such as an oral dam, can reduce the risk of HPV infection if it is put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact. But areas not covered by a barrier still allow some skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. So using these barriers will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of HPV infection.

Live smoke-free

Smoking tobacco may increase the risk of developing vaginal cancer. If you smoke, get help to quit. Avoid second-hand smoke.

Get regular Pap tests

There is no screening test recommended for vaginal cancer at this time. But screening for cervical cancer using the Pap test may also find precancerous or cancerous cells from the vagina.

If you follow the screening guidelines for cervical cancer, cancer can be found before you notice symptoms. Follow the guidelines even when you feel well and healthy.

Find out more about getting screened for cervical cancer.

Find out if you’re at high risk for vaginal cancer

Some people can have a higher than average risk for vaginal cancer. Talk to your doctor about your risk. If you are at higher than average risk, you may need to visit your doctor more often to check for vaginal cancer. Your doctor will recommend what tests you should have and how often you should have them.

More information about reducing cancer risk

Learn what you can do to reduce cancer risk.

Expert review and references