Vaginal cancer is uncommon but is severe type of cancer that forms in the tissues of the vagina. Primary vaginal cancer is quite rare in the common population of women, but a specific form of vaginal cancer is statistically significant in women. Vaginal cancer occurs more frequently in women when they cross the age of 50, but that is not précised, it can happen at any age, even in infancy and can be cured if diagnosed and treated in early stages. Surgery alone or surgery combined with pelvic radiation is typically used to treat vaginal cancer. According to some statistic it has been calculated that around 2,000 women are suffering from this rare type of gynecological cancer each year.
What is Healthy Vagina
Vagina is a muscular canal from the cervix to the outside of the body. It has an average length of about six to seven inches. The walls of vagina are lined with mucus membrane.The vagina consists of vulva that includes labia majora, mons pubis, labia minora, clitoris, bulb of the vsttibules, vstibules of the vagina and the only part of the vagina that can be normally viewed without any instrument from outside is the vaginal opening.The PH balance of the vagina is normally acidic, and which controls and discourage the occurrence of infections in vagina. Normally-occurring bacteria create the acidic environment in vagina. When a vagina is healthy it produces secretions which regulates and cleanse the environment of vagina, just like the saliva regulates the cleanliness and environment of the mouth. These secretions from vagina are commonly termed as vaginal discharge. A vagina is healthy if the secretions from vagina is normal vaginal discharge.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
There are mainly two types of vaginal cancer:
1. Vaginal Squamous cell carcinoma
2. Vaginal Adenocarcinoma
1. Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma
Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma is one the most widespread and common type of vaginal cancer which can be found in the women who are at the age of 60 or above 60, squamous cell carcinoma occurs from the thin, flat squamous cells that line the vagina. A malignant new growth made up of epithelial cells tending to infiltrate surrounding tissues and to give rise to metastases. An initially local carcinoma developed from squamous epithelium and characterized by cuboid cells and keratinization, it forms occurring in the skin, usually originating in sun-damaged areas or preexisting lesions.
2. Vaginal andenocarcinoma
Vaginal adenocarcinoma begins from the glandular cells in the inside layer of the vagina and this type of cancer is mostly found in women who are of 30 or younger.
Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
It’s the symptoms through which a doctor or a patient understand not much but little about the diseases which they sense and describe. Some very common symptoms of vaginal cancer are:
- One can notice abnormal vaginal bleeding mostly happens after sexual intercourse.
- Postmenopause. It is one of the main symptom that is experienced during vaginal cancer.
- Frequent urination.
- Pain during intercourse.
- Pain in pelvic area.
- Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Often there are no symptoms and cancer is found through a routine gynecologic exam. Women who suspect exposure to DES should undergo a more careful gynecological exam on a regular basis because the normal procedure does not closely examine the areas of the vagina.
Abnormal Vaginal Discharge
Vaginal discharge is a common symptom in women. It is normal especially in child bearing age. Normal vaginal discharge is not of much concern but an abnormal vaginal discharge should be taken seriously as it can be a symptom of vaginal cancer. This care is rare and not as much of troublesome but one should consult and should diagnose the abnormal vaginal cancer by a doctor as a precautionary step.
Frequent urination can also be one of the main causes of vaginal cancer, therefore it should be taken seriously and one should consult doctor to know the root cause of urinating frequently. This can be correlated to an increase in fluid intake in your diet or due to some common urinary tract infection, but still best thing is to consult your doctor immediately. One of the symptoms can be presence of blood in urine, not so easy to get noticed through naked eye, but pink spots in panties or any spot on toilet tissue ( while wiping and cleaning) shouldn’t be ignored.
The pelvic pain which keep on continuing for about 3 months or more than it, used to be considered chronic while less than this duration is considered acute. It can be one of the symptoms of vaginal cancer. Pelvic pain usually happens when vaginal cancer starts to spread in vagina. In Pelvic pain a person feels pain or pressure in the abdomen areas. The pain may be constant or can occur after sometime. Many women describe pelvic pain as dull and sharp pains.
The pain might be stable or it might be frequent, if the pelvic pain is severe, it might disturb your health badly and can come in the way of your daily routine. Most of the women describe pelvic pain as dull and sometimes very sharp. The character and beginning of pelvic pain or any factors that ease or make it worse are important and one should properly diagnose it.
A vaginal clump that is felt personally or by physician can also be a symptom of vaginal cancer. There can be several causes of vaginal clumps in the body including vaginal cysts, vaginal infections etc. A biopsy might be necessary to check whether the vaginal mass is cancerous or not.
Changes in the bowel functioning can also be a sign of vaginal cancer. Women may experience severe constipation or black stools as the indicators of vaginal cancer. They may feel the bowl is not completely finished after having a bowel movement.
Causes of Vaginal Cancer
The exact causes of vaginal cancer are still unknown but there are several risk factors for vaginal cancer. A risk factor is an activity or condition that is associated with another disease.
Risk factor for vaginal cancer includes women infected with the HPV virus and being 30 or younger or 60 or over of age.
Stretching of the pelvic ligaments may cause the uterus to sag into vagina or extend outside the vagina. This condition is known as prolapse. It can be treated by surgery or by wearing pessary where pessary is a device to keep the uterus in place. The use of vaginal pessary can lead to higher risk of vaginal cancer. The exposure to synthetic hormones DES while in the mother’s womb also increases the risk.
Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer
In a basic physical examination the patient discloses symptoms, medications and family medical history that may be useful for the doctor. During a pelvic test, the doctor use to check the abnormalities. A colposcopy is done if the abnormalities are seen by the doctor.
Biopsy can be also done to check and diagnose more accurately. In biopsy, small tissue samples are taken and then examined by a pathologist. A biopsy is usually done during colposcopy. A local anesthetic is used to ease discomfort and pain of the patient.
If vaginal cancer is confirmed then several more test are taken to check what stage the cancer is progressed to.
Everyone’s experiences differ when diagnosed with cancer. Coping with a new case can be difficult but learning early on how to cope with cancer will provide you with strength and determination to fight against cancer.
Complications in Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer may spread to distant areas of body, such as lungs, liver and pelvic bones.
Treatment for vaginal cancer can have a significant emotional impact, particularly in women who have not yet reached the menopause and need to have radiotherapy. This treatment triggers an early menopause, which means women have to come to terms with the fact that they will never be able to have children.
Women feel sense of loss and bereavement after treatment and this may trigger the start of depression.
Talking to other women who have similar treatment can give you emotional support and reassurance.
The hospital staff may be able to recommend a suitable local support group.
Treatment of Vaginal Cancer
Cancer treatment can involve one or several different treatments.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are standard methods of treating many types of cancer.
Before getting treated the patient should be aware of side effects, risk and benefits of the treatment. Woman who is more educated about cancer, she can better communicate to a physician and she can be proactive in treatment decisions.
Surgery is sometimes used to remove the cancer but most patients are treated with the radiation. If the tumor is cervical cancer that has spread to vagina, then radiation and chemotherapy both are given.
Sarcoma botryoides is a type of cancer in which grapelike structures appear in the vagina of infants. Sarcoma may be at times treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery and radiation.
Precautionary Measures in Vaginal Cancer
Try to avoid being contaminated with HPV and sexually transmitted virus is a best way to reduce risk for developing vaginal cancer. HPV is a highly common virus. About 80% of women are infected with this virus by the age of 50.
HPV can cause many types of cancer like cervical cancer and there is a link seen between vaginal cancer and HPV.
Vaginal cancer is a disease that can be treated and cured but it’s better to take the preventive measures for this disease timely. Researches are taking place to reduce the causes of vaginal cancer. Vaginal cancer is as serious as the other cancers are. If any of these symptoms are noticed by you, don’t overlook it, take it seriously and rush to your doctor to consult. Right step taken at right time gives solution to any problem, but exceptions are there, where medical science is itself helpless.