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Vaginal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Vaginal Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment

Vaginal cancer is a type of cancer that affects women. It is a rare type of cancer that begins in the vagina. In most cases, cancer of the vagina arises after cancer has spread from other parts of your body.

Stages of Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is classified into different stages based on how far the disease has progressed.

Vaginal Intraepithelial Neoplasia (VAIN)

This is a precancerous stage. During this stage, cancer cells are present in the vaginal lining but have not spread yet.

Stage 1

In this stage, the cancer cells have spread to the vaginal wall.

Stage 2

During this stage, the cancer cells have progressed to the surrounding tissue.

Stage 3

In this stage, the cancer cells have spread to the pelvic wall.

Stage 4

This stage of cancer is further divided into two substages – Stage 4A and Stage 4B. In stage 4A, the cancer cells have spread to the bladder or rectum. While in stage 4B, the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body.

Symptoms

Women with vaginal cancer may not experience any signs and symptoms in the initial stages. However, the signs and symptoms may occur as the condition progresses.

Some of the signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer to watch out for include:

  • Pain while passing urine
  • Pain in the back
  • Constipation
  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Itching in the vaginal area
  • Excess urination
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Unusual bleeding (In some cases, the bleeding occurs even after menopause)
  • Presence of a lump in the vaginal area

Causes

There is not much known about the cause of vaginal cancer. Usually, cells grow and then die at a specific time. However, when the cells do not die and grow excessively, this accumulation of abnormal cells causes tumor growth.

Risk Factors

A person is more at the risk of developing vaginal cancer if:

  • They have a family history of the condition
  • The person is HIV positive
  • They consume excess alcohol
  • The person has been diagnosed with any cancer or have a history of any cancer
  • The person is a smoker
  • They have had radiation therapy
  • They have a history of taking diethylstilboestrol (DES), a medication prescribed in the first trimester of pregnancy to prevent miscarriage
  • The person has a history of Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), a sexually transmitted infection that makes you more prone to developing vaginal cancer

Diagnosis

If you have any symptoms of vaginal cancer or are at the risk of developing the condition, consult your doctor. They may ask you about the symptoms you experience, medical history, and family medical history.

Aside from this, your doctor may then perform a pelvic examination.

Your doctor may recommend a pap smear to check for the presence of abnormal cells in your vaginal area.

Your doctor may even recommend other screening tests taking into consideration your risk factors. They are:

  • Colposcopy – In this procedure, your doctor may examine your vagina with the help of a colposcope to check for any presence of abnormal cells.
  • Biopsy – In this procedure, your doctor may remove a sample of the tissue and send it to the lab for analysis.

Once vaginal cancer is diagnosed, your doctor may recommend other medical tests to determine the stage of cancer, such as:

  • Imaging tests – Your doctor may recommend imaging tests such as X-ray, CT scan, or MRI to determine if cancer has spread to nearby body parts.
  • Cystoscopy or Proctoscopy – In this procedure, your doctor may insert a small camera to determine if cancer has spread to nearby body parts. Cystoscopy checks your bladder and proctoscopy checks your rectum.

Treatment

The treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the stage of cancer.

The most effective treatments include:

Radiotherapy

There are two types of radiotherapy – external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy. In external radiation therapy, the healthcare professional will use a machine to target and kill cancer cells from outside of your body.

In internal radiation therapy, the healthcare professional inserts or implants radioactive material in the affected area. Radiation therapy may also cause certain complications. The therapy may damage the ovaries that may further stop the production of estrogen.

Chemotherapy

In this procedure, the healthcare professional prescribes certain oral or injectable medications to prevent the growth and spread of the cancer cells to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy may cause certain side effects like hair loss, loss of sexual desire, nausea, sudden loss of weight. The side effects usually recover after the treatment is completed. Your doctor may suggest certain measures to cope up with the side effects.

Surgery

In this procedure, your doctor may remove the cancer cells. For vaginal cancer, the procedure can be performed in different ways such as laser surgery, vaginectomy, hysterectomy, pelvic exenteration, and lymphadenectomy.

Lifestyle Changes

  • Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) is the most common cause of vaginal cancer. If you have a history of this infection, you must follow certain precautions. Some of the measures you may follow include getting HPV shots, using condoms, etc.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking increases your risk of developing cancer.
  • Avoid consumption of alcohol. Consuming alcohol increases your risk of cancer and other health conditions.
  • Consult your doctor and know how often you need to perform a pelvic examination and pap smears. You must undergo the test at regular intervals if you have any symptoms, have a history of cancer, or have a family history of the condition.
  • If you are undergoing any treatment for cancer, make sure you complete the treatment properly. Take medications on time and do not miss any therapy sessions.
  • Avoid sexual activities during the treatment and even after the treatment for a few days. Having sex may increase your chances of the infection coming back. It may also cause bleeding or put pressure on the surgical area.
  • Finally, avoid engaging in sexual activities with multiple partners.

Learn more about the different types of cancer, here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Nikita Bhalla Updated Jun 23
Fact Checked by Hello Doctor Medical Panel