Vaginal cancer staging and grading

The stage of the vaginal cancer describes its size and whether it has spread. The grade describes how quickly it may develop.

Vaginal cancer staging

The stage of vaginal cancer describes:

  • where it is
  • how far it has grown from where it started
  • if it has spread.

Your cancer doctor will tell you the stage of the cancer when they have all your test results. Knowing the stage of the cancer helps your doctors advise you on the best treatment.

Number staging system

Vaginal cancers are usually staged using a number system. A number between 1 and 4 is given to the tumour, depending on:

  • its growth in the vagina and surrounding tissues
  • whether it has spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

Lymph nodes are part of the lymphatic system, which helps protect the body against infection and disease. There are groups of lymph nodes throughout the body. They are linked by fine tubes containing lymph fluid.

Lymph nodes in the abdomen and pelvis
Image: Lymph nodes in the abdomen and pelvis

Stage 1

The cancer is only in the vagina.

Stage 2

The cancer has grown through the wall of the vagina.

Stage 3

The cancer has spread to the wall of the pelvis or has spread to nearby lymph nodes, or both.

Stage 4

The cancer has spread to other organs. This can be divided into:

  • stage 4A – the cancer has grown into organs nearby, such as the bladder or the back passage (rectum)
  • stage 4B – the cancer has spread to organs further away in the body, such as the lungs (secondary or metastatic cancer).

Vaginal cancer grading

Grading refers to the appearance of the cancer cells under the microscope. It gives an idea of how quickly the cancer may develop:

  • Low-grade (grade 1) means the cancer cells look similar to normal cells. They are usually slow-growing and less likely to spread.
  • Moderate-grade (grade 2) means the cancer cells look more abnormal. They may grow more quickly.
  • High-grade (grade 3) means the cancer cells look very abnormal. They are more likely to grow quickly or spread to other parts of the body.

We understand that waiting to know the stage and grade of your cancer can be a worrying time. We are here if you need someone to talk to. You can:

About our information

  • References

    Below is a sample of the sources used in our vaginal cancer information. If you would like more information about the sources we use, please contact us at

    Adams T, Cuello M. Cancer of the Vagina: FIGO cancer report 2018. International journal of gynaecology and obstetrics. p14-21.

    Royal College of Radiotherapy: Clinical Oncology. Radiotherapy dose fractionation, third edition. 2019.

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We want our information to be as clear as possible. To do this, we try to:

  • use plain English
  • explain medical words
  • use short sentences
  • use illustrations to explain text
  • structure the information clearly
  • make sure important points are clear.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.

Date reviewed

Reviewed: 01 September 2021
Next review: 01 September 2024
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum
Trusted Information Creator - Patient Information Forum

Our cancer information meets the PIF TICK quality mark.

This means it is easy to use, up-to-date and based on the latest evidence. Learn more about how we produce our information.