Vaginal cancer is the cancer in the woman’s birth canal. The incidence of vaginal cancer is very less when compared to breast cancer, cervical cancer, etc. Vaginal cancer is rare in younger adults and the incidence of cancer increases with age.
The most common of the vaginal cancers include squamous cell carcinoma which often develops very slowly. The other types of vaginal cancer include adenocarcinoma, melanoma, sarcoma, etc. The adenocarcinoma is seen in women who are older than 50 years.Melanoma is a rare condition seen in the outer portion of the vagina. Sarcoma is a very rare condition where the origin of the cancer cells is in the bone, muscles and connective tissues and spreads to the vagina. It forms in the deep walls of the vagina. This cancer is found in children and rarely in adults.
Signs and Symptoms
The signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding often after intercourse
- Vaginal discharge
- Lump formation in the vagina
- Pain in the pelvic region
- Pain during sexual intercourse
Causes and Risk factors
The exact cause of vaginal cancer is not known. However vaginal cancer can occur due to changes in certain genes known to cause cancer. A family history of vaginal cancer may also be a cause of cancer. Smoking of cigarette is also known to be a cause of vaginal cancer.
The risk factors associated with vaginal cancer is still not clear. However, there are certain factors which increase the risk of vaginal cancer. They are
- Age: Older women are at an increased risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma. The incidence of cases is higher in women above the age of 70 years.
- Vaginal adenosis increases the risk of developing clear cell carcinoma, which is a very rare condition.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV): Forms warts or lumps on the external genitalia
- Cervical cancer increases the risk of developing squamous cell cancer
- Smoking of cigarette increases twice the risk of developing vaginal cancer
- HIV infection especially AIDS is known to increase the risk of developing vaginal cancer
The first step involved in the diagnosis of vaginal cancer include the external physical examination. This gives a gross view to the physician about the advancement of the condition. The other diagnostic test includes:
- Colposcopy is a specialised technique used to closely examine your vagina, cervix and the vulva. A colposcopy test is recommended if the Pap test results show abnormal results.
- Biopsy: A biopsy test is recommended to remove a tissue from the tumour and is viewed under the microscope for the changes in the tissue.
- Imaging scan: Chest x-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, positron emission tomography (PET scan can help show the spread of the disease to the surrounding tissues and organs and the stage of cancer.
- Proctosigmoidoscopy is tested for the rectum and part of the colon to detect the spread
- Cystoscopy: is to detect the spread of cancer in the bladder
The treatment of vaginal cancer mostly depends on the type of cancer. The treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Coping and Support
You may feel distressed because of the cancer diagnosis. But, you should find ways to cope with the disease and the treatment for better outcomes and good quality-of-life.
Learn about the disease and the treatment options available, so that you can make decisions for your care. You may need physical and emotional support when you are in the hospital or after returning home. So, keep your family and friends close and make them understand your condition.