Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that starts in a women’s vagina, a canal that connects the uterus from the outer genitals. It occurs when abnormal cells in the surface of the vagina, also known as the birth canal, start to develop uncontrollably. Vaginal cancer has the tendency to grow quickly to other nearby organs, which becomes more difficult to treat. Hence, early diagnosis is incredibly necessary.
- Types of vaginal cancer’s
- Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma
- Vaginal adenocarcinoma
- Vaginal sarcoma
- Vaginal melanoma
Causes and symptoms of vaginal cancer
There are several risk factors of vagina cancer, but it isn’t necessary that having these risk factors will surely cause you the condition. These factors could be age, having a condition called VAIN where cells surfacing the vagina changes abnormally, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, history of cancer of the cervix, HIV infection, weakened immune system, taking diethylstilbestrol, womb cancer treatment, family history, early sexual intercourse and smoking.
You may not experience any symptoms at an early stage of vaginal cancer, but once progresses, you may notice:
- Unusual vaginal bleeding and discharge
- A lump in the vagina
- Frequent and painful urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pelvic pain
Diagnosing vulva cancer
Early diagnosis can prevent the cancer from metastasizing and increase the chances of successful recovery. Below are the tests that examine the vagina and nearby organs to detect vaginal cancer.
- Physical exam and medical history
- Pelvic exam
- Pap smear
- A biopsy
Treatment of vulva cancer
Different types of treatment methods are available for curing vaginal cancer, depending on the stage of the cancer and the overall medical condition of the patient. The main treatment methods include:
- Surgery: The most common and initial treatment method is the surgical procedure where the cells that surface the vagina are removed. There are different types of surgery used to treat vaginal cancer in different stages.
- Laser surgery: A surgical process using laser beam to cut and remove the cancerous cells without bleeding.
- Wide local excursions: A process of removing the cancer and some surrounding healthy tissues.
- Vaginectomy: Surgery to remove parts or all of the vagina.
- Hysterectomy: Procedure to remove the uterus, cervix, ovaries and Fallopian tubes along with some nearby tissues are removed.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy refers to shrinking of cancer cells with the help of anti-cancer drugs that is given to the patient through pills or injection into a vein, which enters the blood stream and reaches cancer cells throughout the body. A very successful method of treating vaginal cancer that has progressed.
- Radiation therapy: radiation therapy is given to the patient where an outside machine throws high energy radiation beams at the affected part of the body, which kills the cancer cells and stops its growth. The process can be used alongside chemotherapy and surgery.
Vaginal cancer treatment complications may occur soon after the treatment is finished and progress after a year or so. It all depends on the kind of treatment you are given. Below are some short term and long term side effects.
- Itching and burning sensation in the vagina or pelvic region
- Abdominal pain
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Fatigue and weakness
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Trouble urinating
- Mouth sores
- Vaginal dryness
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
Post Operative care
Once the treatment is done, you will have regular checkups where physical and medical examinations will be performed. Imaging tests will be performed to see if recurrence is occurring.
During these checkups, you can tell the doctor of any symptoms or abnormalities in your body that may concern you.
Vaginal cancer treatment may require you to avoid sexual intercourse for a few weeks due to discomfort and infection.
Leading a healthy life by eating nutritious food and performing regular workouts is the key to healthy and faster recovery.