Vaginal Dysplasia

The vagina is an elastic, muscular canal with a flexible lining that provides lubrication and sensation. The vaginal canal connects the uterus and cervix to the outside world as the cervix protrudes into the vagina. During childbirth the baby passes through the vagina, also known as the birth canal. The vaginal canal also allows for menstruation and intercourse.

Vaginal dysplasia also known as VAIN (Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia) describes abnormal cells
found in the cells of the vagina.

Dysplasia is not cancer, but is a precancerous change that can develop into cancer.

HPV (Human papillomavirus) is the most common sexually transmitted infection and the most common cause of vaginal dysplasia and vaginal cancer. Having a history of cervical/vulvar dysplasia or cervical/vulvar cancer is often associated with an increased risk for vaginal dysplasia/vaginal cancer. Vaginal dysplasia can occur before or after a hysterectomy. This is why having vaginal pap smears after a hysterectomy is even more important if you have a history of HPV.

HPV Cancers:

  • History of HPV
  • History of cervical or vulvar dysplasia
  • History of cervical or vulvar cancer
  • High number of sexual partners
  • Unprotected sexual activity
  • Chronic illnesses/ having a weakened immune system
  • Smoking or tobacco use
  • Poor health maintenance including lack of routine pap smears/ pelvic exams

Many patients with vaginal dysplasia have no symptoms at all.

This is why close monitoring with pap smears and pelvic exams is very important to identify vaginal
dysplasia before it develops into vaginal cancer.
A pap smear is a test to sample cells on the surface of the cervix and can be done on the vagina as
well to screen for vaginal dysplasia. HPV testing can be done at the same time.
Although a pap smear can identify vaginal dysplasia, further tests are often required. If you have
had an abnormal pap, a treatment/monitoring plan will be individualized and determined by your
physician. The goal is to prevent the progression into vaginal cancer.

Next steps:

  • Repeated and more frequent pap smears.
  • Colposcopy: a magnified exam of the vagina to detect abnormal tissue to biopsy. The tissue
    samples are then sent to pathology for diagnosis. The pathology may result as: VAIN 1, VAIN 2,
    VAIN 3 or vaginal cancer.

VAIN stands for vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia and is a precancerous change, with VAIN 2 and
VAIN 3 having a higher chance of developing into cancer.

Treatment options for more advanced vaginal dysplasia will be aimed at removing the abnormal tissue, to prevent development into cancer.

These include:

  • Topical therapy with Aldara (Imiquimod) which works by boosting the body’s immune response to
    the area of abnormal tissue
  • C02 laser – uses high intensity energy from a light beam to destroy abnormal areas of the vagina.
  • In more advanced cases, further surgical intervention may be necessary.

Ways you can reduce your risk of developing Vaginal dysplasia:

  • Obtain routine health screenings including well women exams and pap smears.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Practice safe sexual practices by limiting partners and using condoms.
  • Get the HPV vaccine: This vaccine is available for all boys and girls aged 9-26 and approved
    by the FDA & CDC for adults aged 27-45.
  • The HPV vaccine is not recommended for everyone older then 27 and is most effective when
    given at a young age, before exposure to HPV.
  • However, older individuals at risk for acquiring a new HPV infection in the future with new
    partners, might benefit from vaccination.