Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that occurs in your vagina — the muscular tube that connects your uterus with your outer genitals. Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of your vagina, which is sometimes called the birth canal.
While several types of cancer can spread to your vagina from other places in your body, cancer that begins in your vagina (primary vaginal cancer) is rare.
There are different types of vaginal cancer, which affect different types of cells in the vagina. These include –
• Squamous cell carcinoma
The most common type of vaginal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma accounts for about 70% of all cases. This cancer begins in the cells that line the vagina and occurs near to the cervix.
This type of cancer begins in gland cells in the vagina. It accounts for about 15% of vaginal cancer, usually affecting women over age 50. Clear cell adenocarcinoma is the exception, often affecting younger women who were exposed to DES in their mother’s womb.
A more rare form of vaginal cancer, making up about 9% of all cases. Melanoma usually occurs in the outer portion of the vagina.
A rare form of vaginal cancer that makes up about 4% of cases. This type of cancer begins within the walls of the vagina, not on the surface. There are different types of sarcoma. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common and is mostly found in children. Leiomyosarcoma occurs more commonly in women over 50
Vaginal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms. Your doctor might find it during a routine exam or Pap test.
If you have symptoms, they can include –
• Unusual bleeding from your vagina
• Watery or bad-smelling discharge from your vagina
• Pain in your pelvis
• Pain when having sex
• Pain when peeing
• Peeing more than usual
• A lump in your vagina
Causes & Risk Factors –
Some cases of vaginal cancer don’t have a clear cause. But most are linked to infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV. This is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD).
An HPV infection most often goes away on its own, but if it lingers, it can lead to cervical and vaginal cancer.
You also might be more likely to get vaginal cancer if you –
• Are 60 or older
• Were exposed to DES
• Drink alcohol
• Have cervical cancer or precancerous lesions
• Have HIV
• Have unusual cells in your vagina called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia
Vaginal cancer may spread (metastasize) to distant areas of your body, such as your lungs, liver and bones.
If a pelvic exam or a Pap test shows signs of a problem, your doctor may want to take a closer look by doing a colposcopy. They’ll use a lighted magnifying tool called a colposcope to check your vagina and cervix for anything unusual.
They might also take out a bit of tissue so a specialist can look at it under a microscope. This is called a biopsy.
After your doctor diagnoses vaginal cancer, they’ll do imaging tests and other exams to find out whether it’s spread to other parts of your body. This helps them decide the stage the cancer and how to treat it. The stages are –
• Stage I: The cancer is only in your vaginal wall.
• Stage II: It has spread to the tissue around your vagina.
• Stage III: Cancer is in the wall of your pelvis.
• Stage IVa: The cancer has reached the lining of your bladder, the lining of your rectum, or another area of your pelvis.
• Stage IVb: It has spread to farther parts of your body like your lungs or bones.
If the cancer is stage 1 and in the upper third of the vagina, you might have surgery to remove the tumor and a small area of healthy tissue around it. This is usually followed by radiotherapy.
Radiotherapy is the most commonly used treatment in all stages of vaginal cancer. In some cases, you might have chemotherapy to support the radiotherapy. However, there’s little evidence for the benefit of chemotherapy for vaginal cancer.
If you’ve already received radiotherapy in the vaginal area, a doctor or other HCP will likely recommend surgery. This is because each part of the body can only undergo a certain amount of radiation.
Depending on the size, location, and margins of your tumor, they might remove:
• only the tumor and a small area of healthy tissue around it
• part or all of the vagina
• most of your reproductive or pelvic organs
Stage 4b cancer is generally not curable, but treatment can relieve symptoms. If this is the case, a doctor or other HCP might recommend radiotherapy or chemotherapy
For more informative articles on female reproductive health and other health related issues, please visit our website www.santripty.com and also feel free to consult with our experienced team of doctors, get benefits and stay healthy.