Screening for vaginal cancer

There is no national screening programme for vaginal cancer in the UK. This is because there isn’t a test that can pick up vaginal cancer at an early stage. 

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease. This is before they have any symptoms. For screening to be useful the tests:

  • need to be reliable at picking up cancers
  • overall must do more good than harm to people taking part
  • must be something that people are willing to do

Screening tests are not perfect and have some risks. The screening programme should also be good value for money for the NHS.

Why there isn’t a screening programme for vaginal cancer in the UK?

There is no screening programme for vaginal cancer in the UK at the moment because:

  • vaginal cancer is rare, so many people would have unnecessary tests
  • the benefits don't outweigh the costs

With rare cancers, it is more cost effective to screen people who are thought to be at a higher risk. Talk to your GP if you think you are at a higher risk than average of developing vaginal cancer. Your GP may offer you regular check ups. 

Screening for cervical cancer

The NHS has a screening program for cervical cancer. The cervical screening programme aims to pick up changes early that could develop into cervical cancer if left untreated. 

It tests for a virus called human papilloma virus (HPV). High risk HPV can cause cervical cells to become abnormal. Virtually all cases of cervical cancer are linked to high risk HPV. 

Cervical screening does not screen for vaginal cancer. But when you have cervical screening, your nurse routinely examines your vagina at the same time.  

They may pick up changes in the vagina, for example thickening or ulceration. Or pre cancerous conditions such as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN). Treatment for VAIN helps prevent vaginal cancer from developing.

Last reviewed: 
28 Feb 2022
Next review due: 
28 Feb 2025
  • Cancer of the vagina 
    T Adams and M Cuello

    International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics,

    FIGO Cancer Report, 2018. Volume143, Issue S2, Pages 14-21

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015 (updated 2021)

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    Scottish Government, 2019 (updated 2020)

  • Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology (11th edition)
    VT DeVita, TS Lawrence, SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer, 2019

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