We all hear about cervical or ovarian cancer, but who hears about vaginal cancer? The fact is that vaginal cancer, while uncommon, can be deadly if left undiagnosed and treated. Many women with vaginal cancer may not even know that they have it until it is too late. The cancer itself, and treatment options are discussed here!
The vaginal canal is sometimes referred to as the ‘birth canal’ because it leads from the opening of the cervix to the outside of the body. There are two main types of vaginal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinoma forms in the thin, flat cells that line the vagina. It grows slowly and usually does not metastasize, but when it does, it can spread to the lungs and liver, thereby being potentially deadly.
Adenocarcinoma grows in the secretory glands of the vagina. This type of cancer is more common, and more likely to metastasize. This type of cancer appears most commonly after menopause.
Women who are above the age of 60, exposed to DES while in the womb, have had HPV, have had cervical cancer, or a history of abnormal cells in the cervix, have had uterine cancer, or a history of abnormal cells in the uterus, and have had a hysterectomy for cancer or other health problems affecting the uterus are more likely to develop vaginal cancer.
Vaginal cancer manifests itself in the form of pain or abnormal bleeding. However, since it is oftentimes symptomless, it may only be detected during yearly pelvic exams and pap smears. Bleeding and discharge in between periods, pain during intercourse, pain in the pelvic area, vaginal lumps, pain while urinating, and constipation are all signs of vaginal cancer.
This cancer can often be detected by physical exams, pelvic exams, pap smears, colposcopies, biopsies, Treatment works better if the cancer has not metastasized, the tumor size, the grade of the tumor cells, if there are symptoms at diagnosis, if the patient is younger and in good relative health, and if the cancer has gone into permanent remission.
Treatment options include hysterectomy, vaginectomy, brachytherapy, dystilbol, pelvic exams, and vulvectomy. As can be seen, the only viable treatment option in many cases is either minor or major surgery which results in removal in part or all of the reproductive tract organs.
Vaginal cancer patients have a better outlook than ever before. Vaginal cancer is no longer the silent killer that it used to be, and many patients are living long and productive lives long after treatment. In case you have a concern or query you can always consult an expert & get answers to your questions!