When cancerous growth begins to erupt in the vagina, it is referred to as vaginal cancer. It is a rare type of cancer that affects women above the age of 50.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
Depending on the type of cell, vaginal cancers are of the following types:
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma: This is a common and slow-growing cancer which starts in the inner lining of the vagina.
- Adenocarcinoma: This cancer starts in the mucous producing cell of the vagina.
- Vaginal Sarcoma: This is rare cancer which starts in the connective tissues of the vaginal wall.
- Vaginal melanoma: This is also rare cancer which starts in the pigment-producing cells in the vagina.
In the early stages, cancer may not show any symptoms. The common symptoms include:
- Lump in the vagina.
- Unusual bleeding is not related to menstruation.
- Frequent urination.
- Watery discharge.
- Pain in the pelvis.
- Pain during sexual intercourse.
- Pain while urinating.
The exact cause of vaginal cancer is not known. The possible causes, however, include:
- HPV infection.
- Family history.
- History of cervical cancer.
- Radiation therapy.
Vaginal cancer is diagnosed by:
- Physical examination: The doctor will perform a vaginal examination to check for the signs of cancer.
- Pap smear test: The doctor will conduct this test and collect the cells covering the cervix and vagina. The collected cells will be examined for cancer.
- Colposcopy: This procedure will be performed to examine the vagina. In this procedure, the doctor will insert a tool called a speculum into the vagina to get a magnified image. If cancerous lesions are found, a biopsy will be recommended.
- Biopsy: The doctor will retrieve a small tissue from the vagina and examine for the presence of cancerous cells.
- Imaging tests: Various imaging tests such as ultrasound, CT scan, and MRI will be performed to gauge the size, location, and stage of the tumour.
The treatment strategy for vaginal cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer, age, and overall health of the patient. Surgery is usually the mainstay of cancer. This is combined with chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and immunotherapy.
Cancer surgery may cause damage to the eggs and alter hormone levels. This may result in loss of fertility. Before starting the treatment, the doctor will discuss plans with you. In case you are planning a baby, the doctor will make sure to preserve your fertility before starting the treatment.
- Surgery: Surgery will be performed to remove the tumour or vagina, or cervix, or cervix and uterus depending on the stage and severity of cancer.
- Radiation therapy: High energy X-rays will be used to destroy cancer cells.
- Chemotherapy: High doses of anti-cancer drugs will be administered to destroy cancer cells. In some cases, chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to remove cells from the body.
- Targeted therapy: Certain drugs will be administered to target specific protein particles in the cancerous cells. This therapy is considered in chances of relapse.