Cancer the word can shake one inside outside. Different types of cancers affect different parts of the body. One such cancer is vaginal cancer. This cancer takes place due to the growth of cancerous cells in the vagina. It is cancer that affects women and is more common in women over 60 years of age. Only 2% of the genital cancer cases are of vaginal cancer. Heavy bleeding, pain in the pelvic region, pain during urinating, and abnormal vaginal discharge are some of the common vaginal cancer symptoms.
Let us dig deeper to understand vulva cancer signs and treatment of vaginal cancer.
What is Vaginal Cancer?
Vaginal cancer, as the name suggests is cancer that affects the vagina of a woman. Although a rare type of cancer, vaginal cancer if left untreated may turn fatal. This cancer usually forms in the lining of the vagina. The Vagina, also known as the birth canal of a woman, rarely becomes the place to develop cancer and if it does, it should be detected at an early stage. An early-stage vaginal cancer is highly curable.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
The main types of vaginal cancer are:
1. Squamous Cell: This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. 9 out of 10 women suffering from vaginal cancer suffer from this type of cancer that starts in the vaginal lining.
2. Adenocarcinoma: This form of vaginal cancer develops in the vaginal gland cells. It is the second most commonly found type of vaginal cancer found mostly in women over the age of 50.
3. Melanoma: This form of vaginal cancer is more like skin cancer. It develops in those cells that are responsible for coloring the skin.
4. Sarcoma: Only a small percentage of women suffer from this type of rare vaginal cancer. It develops in the walls of the vagina.
Stages of Vaginal Cancer
As in the case of other types of cancers, vaginal cancer also has different stages like:
1. Stage I: In this first stage, vaginal cancer is present only in the walls of the vagina.
2. Stage II: Stage two of vaginal cancer is when cancer has spread to the nearby tissues around the vagina.
3. Stage III: The third stage of vaginal cancer is when cancer has spread to the walls of the pelvis.
4. (a) Stage IV: In the first part of the fourth stage of vaginal cancer, the cancer cells have spread to the bladder lining. It has also spread to the lining of the pelvis, and rectum. It becomes quite difficult to cure vaginal cancer at this stage.
5. (b) Stage IV: This is the last stage of vaginal cancer. Cancer by this time has spread to other body parts like bones, and lungs.
Causes of Vaginal Cancer
Some risk factors that may put you at risk of vaginal cancer are:
- Drinking Excessive Alcohol
- Cervical Cancer
- Exposure to DES
- Age over 60 years
- Unusual cell growth in the vagina
Signs of Vaginal Cancer
Some common vaginal cancer symptoms are:
- Bleeding during or after having sex
- Bleeding after menopause
- Bleeding in between the menstruation cycles
- Heavier and unusual bleeder for a longer period
Other Vulva Cancer Symptoms
Besides the above-mentioned symptoms, other vulva cancer symptoms include:
1. Itchiness in the vagina
2. Painful and frequent urination
3. Pelvic pain during sex
4. Watery and smelly vaginal discharge
5. Formation of a lump or mass in the vagina
6. Swollen legs
7. Back pain
8. Bloody stool or urine
9. Fistulas in the later stage of the cancer
Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer
To detect vaginal cancer, your doctor may prescribe a Pap test or a pelvic examination. In some cases, the doctor may also suggest a colposcopy. This is a diagnostic test done using a lighted magnifying tool called a colposcope. A colposcope is used to check for the presence of cancerous cells in the vagina and cervix. To confirm cancer, your doctor may ask you to get a biopsy too.
Vaginal Cancer Treatment
The treatment for vaginal cancer depends on the stage of cancer. Your doctor will decide on an appropriate treatment based on various factors. Some of the common vaginal cancer treatments are:
In most cases, the doctor prescribes surgery to remove the cancerous cells and tissues using a laser. If need be, there can be surgery to remove a part or whole vagina. This surgery is called hysterectomy.
2. Radiation Therapy
Like other types of cancers are treated using radiation therapy, vaginal cancer can be treated the same way. High-powered X-rays or other radiations are sent to the affected part to kill the cancerous growth in the vagina. The side effect of radiation therapy is that it may cause some damage to your ovaries and pelvic region. You may experience menopause, hot flashes, and even stop making estrogen.
Vaginal cancer can also be treated using chemotherapy. In this treatment, some medication is used to stop or kill the growth of cancerous cells. Your doctor may prescribe some oral medicines or intravenous injections. Chemotherapy may also lead to some side effects like nausea, loss of hair, loss of sexual drive, and sudden weight gain or weight loss.
The Bottom Line
If you detect any vaginal cancer symptoms, don’t ignore them. Make sure to get yourself tested to confirm whether it is cancer or something else. A woman over 45 years of age should undergo regular pelvic exams and Pap tests to detect such harmful cells growing in the vagina. Besides, we suggest you get an HPV vaccine to prevent the chances of vaginal cancer.