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) @(Model.HeadingTag)>
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 @(Model.HeadingTag)>
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 @(Model.HeadingTag)>
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 @(Model.HeadingTag)>
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 @(Model.HeadingTag)>
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.
American Cancer Society. Vaginal Cancer, Risk Factors and Prevention. 2014: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/vaginal-cancer/causes-risks-prevention.html.
American Society of Clinical Oncology. Vaginal Cancer. 2017: https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/vaginal-cancer.
Bardawil T. Vaginal Cancer. 2015: https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/269188-overview.
De Vuyst H, Clifford GM, Nascimento MC, Madeleine MM, Franceschi S . Prevalence and type distribution of human papillomavirus in carcinoma and intraepithelial neoplasia of the vulva, vagina and anus: a meta-analysis. International Journal of Cancer. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley-Liss, Inc; 2009.
Lu B, Kumar A, Castellsague X, Giuliano AR . Efficacy and safety of prophylactic vaccines against cervical HPV infection and diseases among women: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Infectious Diseases. BioMed Central; 2011.
Madeleine MM, Johnson LG . Vulvar and vaginal cancers. Thun MJ (ed.). Schottenfeld and Fraumeni Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention. 4th ed. New York, NY: Oxford University Press; 2018: 49:947-951.
National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI); Public Health Agency of Canada. Updated Recommendations on Human Papillomavirus (HPV) Vaccines: 9-valent HPV Vaccine and Clarification of Minimum Intervals Between Doses in the HPV Immunization Schedule. 2017: http://www.healthycanadians.gc.ca/publications/healthy-living-vie-saine/human-papillomavirus-9-valent-vaccine-update-recommendation-mises-a-jour-recommandations-papillome-humain-vaccin-nonavalent/alt/hpv-phv-eng.pdf.
Penn Medicine. All About Vaginal Cancer. University of Pennsylvania; 2016: https://www.oncolink.org/.