Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, and Treatment
Vaginal cancer occurs when cancer cells grow and develop in the vagina. Although this condition is relatively rare, early treatment is important to prevent the cancer from getting worse. Check out an explanation of the symptoms and how to treat it in the following review.
What is Vaginal Cancer?
Vaginal cancer is a condition when cancer cells grow and develop in the vagina. This organ is a link between the uterus and the outside of the female organs.
Cancer can spread from other organs to the vagina or grow on its own within this organ. Even so, cancer that starts from the vagina is a rare condition.
Vaginal Cancer Symptoms
In the early stages, this disease does not cause any symptoms. New symptoms will appear when the condition has progressed to an advanced stage.
A common symptom of vaginal cancer is a lump or change in the skin in or around the vagina.
In addition, several other symptoms that can occur include:
- Unusual bleeding, such as occurring outside of your menstrual period, after sexual intercourse, or after menopause.
- Pain during sex.
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Pain when urinating
- Frequent urination.
- Pelvic pain.
- vaginal itching
Also Read: 10 Types of Cancer That Can Appear Without Early Symptoms, Don’t Ignore It
When is the Right Time to See a Doctor?
If you experience some of the symptoms above, immediately consult a doctor. Need to know, As this disease does not always show symptoms in its early stages, it is very important to have regular pelvic exams to detect any possibility of developing cancer.
Causes of Vaginal Cancer
The cause for this condition is not known with certainty. However, most cases of vaginal cancer are related to viral infections human papillomavirus (HPVs).
Cancer itself can happen when cells in the body change or mutate. After that, the cells will grow uncontrollably until they attack the healthy tissue cells around them.
Cancer cells can also invade other parts of the body and trigger cancer in that location. This is known as metastasis.
The cause of this disease is not known with certainty, but there are several factors that are known to increase the risk.
There are a number of risk factors for vaginal cancer, including:
- Women who are 70 years of age or older. However, women under that age can also experience it.
- Use diethylstilbestrol (DES). DES is a hormone medication used to prevent miscarriage.
- Suffering from precancerous disorders, such as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN).
- Infection human papillomavirus (HPVs).
- Have had surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy).
- Having sex at an early age.
- Frequently changing sexual partners.
- Infection human immunodeficiency virus (HIVs).
- Smoking habit.
- Alcohol consumption.
- vaginal irritation
How Common is Vaginal Cancer?
Vaginal cancer is a rare disease, especially in women under 40 years of age. According to the American Cancer Society, these cases only account for about 1-2 percent of cases of cancer of the female organs and include a small part of all cancer cases as a whole.
Diagnosis of vaginal cancer
Before determining the diagnosis, the doctor will first carry out a physical examination and first ask about the patient’s medical history.
After detecting the possibility of vaginal cancer, the doctor will carry out a series of tests to help make the diagnosis. Some of these supporting examinations include:
- Pap smear: this procedure is done to take a sample of tissue in the vagina.
- Colposcopy: this examination is performed to see a more detailed picture of the vagina and cervix.
- Biopsy: This procedure is performed by taking tissue from the vaginal area. After that, the sample will be examined in the laboratory.
- Imaging: x-rays, CT scans, MRI scans, and PET scans can be done to get a picture of the condition of the vagina. That way, doctors can find out the location of the cancer and see if it has spread.
Also Read: 11 Important Steps in Addressing a Cancer Diagnosis
Types of Vaginal Cancer
Although it is a rare condition, vaginal cancer has several types, including:
1. Squamous Cell Carcinoma
This cancer is one of the most common of all cases of vaginal cancer. Nearly 9 out of 10 cases of vaginal cancer are of this type.
Squamous cell carcinoma forms in squamous cells, a cell in the lining of the vagina. If left unchecked, cancer will grow and develop through the vaginal wall, then spread to nearby tissue.
Cancer can also spread to other organs outside the vagina, such as the liver and bones. However, it spreads most often to the lungs.
Adenocarcinoma occurs when cancer grows in gland cells known as adenocarcinoma. The case is rare because it only occurs in about 1 in 10 cases of vaginal cancer.
This type of cancer is more common in women over the age of 50. However, women under that age are still at risk of experiencing it.
3. Vaginal Sarcoma
Sarcomas are cancers that start from muscle, bone or connective tissue. This condition is rare because it only occurs in less than 3 cases out of every 100 reported cases of vaginal cancer.
Melanoma occurs when cancer cells grow and develop in the pigment-producing cells that give color to the skin. This type of cancer is rare because there are only less than 3 out of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer.
Also Read: 9 Types of Cancer in Women that Often Occur and Need to Watch Out for!
Vaginal Cancer Stage
Vaginal cancer is divided into four stages based on the TNM classification (tumor, nodule, and metastasis).
At this stage, cancer grows on the vaginal wall.
Cancer that grows on the vaginal wall has spread around the initial location of its appearance, has not reached the pelvic wall.
At this stage, the cancer has spread to the pelvic cavity and blocks the flow of urine. This condition is known as hydronephrosis.
This stage is divided into 4A and 4B. Entering stage 4A, the cancer has spread to other organs outside the uterus, such as the bladder and anus, but has not reached the lymph nodes.
While stage 4B means the cancer has spread to other organs far from the vagina, such as the liver, bones and lungs.
Vaginal Cancer Treatment
Treatment options depend on the stage, location, and size of the cancer. In addition, treatment measures will also adjust to medical conditions. Some of the common treatments include:
Radiotherapy is the mainstay of treatment for vaginal cancer. In the process, there are two types of radiotherapy that can be done, namely external and internal.
In an external procedure, the doctor will shoot a radiation beam towards the vagina and pelvis. Meanwhile, internal procedures are carried out by placing radioactive material in the vagina or the surrounding area.
Surgery will be performed to remove the tumor/cancer, part/all of the vagina, or other organs that have become a place for cancer to spread.
This action is performed if radiotherapy and surgery cannot remove the cancer. Chemotherapy procedures are in the form of administering drugs to kill cancer cells.
Also Read: 11 Ways to Prevent Cervical Cancer that Women Must Know
Vaginal Cancer Complications
If left untreated, vaginal cancer can develop and enlarge, even spreading to the tissues around the vagina or other organs that are quite far away.
Vaginal Cancer Prevention
Although there is no specific way to prevent it, there are several ways you can do to minimize the risk of getting this disease, including:
- Stop smoking habit.
- Avoid risky sexual relations, such as sexual intercourse at an early age and multiple partners.
- Use protection such as condoms when having sex.
- Get the HPV vaccination.
- Do regular Pap smear checks.
- Anonymous. 2021. Vaginal Cancer. https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/vaginal-cancer/. (Accessed 28 February 2023).
- Anonymous. About Vaginal Cancer. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/vaginal-cancer/about.html. (Accessed 28 February 2023).
- Anonymous. 2019. Vaginal Cancer. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/vaginal-cancer/symptoms-causes/syc-20352447. (Accessed 28 February 2023).
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