Vaginal cancer is almost unheard of by many women. It is a very rare type of cancer, especially the primary vaginal cancer. It is usually seen in women over the age of 50 years and can be cured if found in the early stages. The following guide will help you clear any doubts related to vaginal cancer.
What is the Vagina?
The muscular tube that extends from the cervix, that is opening of the uterus, till the vulva, present between a woman’s legs. The vagina is the passage that helps urine, blood from menstruation pass out from the body and also serves as a passageway for the baby to be born during childbirth.
What is Vaginal Cancer?
Vaginal cancer is the cancer of the vagina. It usually affects the cells on the surface of the vagina, that is, the birth canal. When vaginal cancer originates in the vagina, it is called as primary vaginal cancer. When the cancer in the cervix, uterus, bladder or other parts of the body metastases to the vagina, it is called as secondary vaginal cancer.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
There are two types vaginal cancers: primary and secondary. These two basic types are further divided into further subtypes. These are explained below:
Primary Vaginal Cancer
Cancer that develops in the vagina are called as primary vaginal cancers. There are two major subtypes of vaginal cancer. They are:
The cancer develops in the squamous cells is called as squamous cell carcinoma. It is the most common type of vaginal cancer that affects 70 cases out of 100. This cancer commonly occurs in the upper area of the vagina. These cancers develop very slowly, over many years. Initially, the normal cells become pre-cancerous, then they turn into cancer cells.
The pre-cancerous stage of squamous cells is called as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), The term ‘Intraepithelial’ means abnormal cells that are present only in the epithelium, that is, surface layer. There are three types of VAIN, VAIN1, 2, 3. VAIN3 is the most advanced stage leading towards cancer. VAIN is very common in women who have undergone hysterectomy or have been treated by cervical cancer or pre-cancer.
This type of vaginal cancer affects women over the age of 50. It is seen in about 15 of 100 cases. Younger women are often affected by a type of cancer called the clear cell adenocarcinoma. It is seen in women whose mother’s took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy.
Cancer of the pigment-producing cells in the skin is called as melanoma. This cancer is seen in about 9 out of 100 cases. It affects the outer part of the vagina.
Cancer of the cells in the bones, muscles or connective tissues are called as sarcoma. This cancer is seen in 4 of 100 cases of vaginal cancer.
There are different types of vaginal sarcomas like:
Secondary Vaginal Cancer
Cancers from other parts of the body spread to the vagina called as secondary vaginal cancers. These are more common than primary cancers.
Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer does not cause any early symptoms. Some of the signs of vaginal cancer include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding; post-coital, intermenstrual, prepubertal or post menopausal
- Difficulty in passing urine
- Pain during urination
- Painful intercourse
- Pain in the pelvic area
- Lump in the vagina
Causes of Vaginal Cancer
The exact cause of vaginal cancer is still under study. A previous infection by the human papilloma virus (HPV) can increase the risk of developing vaginal cancer. Women in the 1940s and 1970s were prescribed a drug called diethylstilbestrol (DES). This drug was supposed to prevent miscarriage. However, it has been found that the female children of these women became prone to clear cell adenocarcinoma. However, this condition is very rare.
Test and Diagnosis of vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer can be detected during a routine gynecologicalcheckup. These tests include:
Treatment for Vaginal Cancer
Treatment for vaginal cancer includes surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The treatment depends on a number of factors like the general health of the patient, grade and stage of cancer and the type of cancer. Depending on this any one of the above treatments or a combination of two or all will be given.
The patient will be offered palliative treatment to improve the quality of life. This treatment aims at providing relief from the pain and curbing the spread of cancer. It also involves giving the patient emotional and physical support.
Will Vaginal Cancer Affect Sex Life?
Sex will difficult when one suffers from vaginal cancer. In some cases, the vagina is reconstructed. This makes it impossible to achieve vaginal orgasm. Those having radiotherapy will not have a desire to have sex as it becomes very uncomfortable. Also, radiotherapy causes the vagina to become narrow. In such a case, the doctor will ask you to use a dilator for sometime during the day to be inserted in the vagina to help keep it open.
Vaginal cancer causes a lot of distress to the affected woman. It is one of the most intimate parts of the body and getting it treated for cancer makes it very stressful. In this case, they require support and love from family and their partners, if any. One can always join a support group to get an outlet for their emotions and cope up with the shock.
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Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: January 15, 2015