Affecting only about one percent of the female population, according to OncoLink, vaginal cancer is a very rare type of gynecological cancer.
The rarity, however, does not mean women shouldn’t be aware of the signs of vaginal cancer as it can help them prevent this disease or ensure early detection.
Learn more about vaginal cancer, including the signs and symptoms, detection and treatment plans.
About Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer is exactly what the name implies — cancer in the vagina. It is a cancer that occurs in female reproductive organs, similar to cervical cancer. As with many other gynecological cancers, it can be found in a variety of forms. However, the two main types of vaginal cancer are squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Squamous Cell — A slow form of cancer that begins in the vaginal lining.
Adenocarcinoma — A cancer occurring more in patients of increasing age, adenocarcinoma begins in the vaginal glands.
And while not as prevalent, vaginal cancer can also be melanoma, cancer of the cells that color the skin, or sarcoma, cancer starting in the vaginal walls.
Causes and Risk Factors
There is not yet a determined cause of these abnormal cells in the vagina, but some risk factors of vaginal cancer include vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), increasing age, HIV, smoking, multiple intercourse partners and more.
Along with this list, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is one of the more common risk factors of vaginal cancer. If an HPV infection does not go away on its own and it becomes chronic, it can cause vaginal cancer. There are, however, currently vaccines one can receive to prevent HPV infection, which will, in turn, help prevent vaginal cancer.
Signs of Vaginal Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, what symptoms, and if a woman even exhibits symptoms of vaginal cancer depend on how advanced the cancer is. Some possible signs of invasive and advanced vaginal cancer may include:
- Vaginal bleeding or discharge that is not from menstruation
- Lump in the vagina
- Pain during intercourse
- Pain during urination
- Bowel issues
- Pelvic or back pain
- Leg swelling
Treatment of Vaginal Cancer
Treatment of vaginal cancer is typically referred to a board certified gynecologic oncologist. Dr. Richard Drake, located in The Woodlands and Houston, Texas area, treats patients diagnosed with multiple types of female reproductive cancers such as vaginal cancer as well as ovarian, uterine, and vulvar cancers.
After learning more about the patient’s symptoms and medical history, Dr. Drake will perform a pelvic exam and pap test. If he finds abnormal cells, he will then perform a colposcopy to see if your cells are cancerous and, if so, at what stage the cancer is.
The correct treatment of vaginal cancer depends solely on the stage of cancer and if it is recurrent. There are four stages of vaginal cancer as well as VAIN, precancer. For instance, many cases of early VAIN will go away on their own, and doctors will simply recommend close monitoring for a few months. If it does not go away or progress to more severe VAIN, you and your doctor will explore treatment plans.
Some common treatment plans include topical medications or simple surgery for VAIN or very early stage cancer and chemotherapy and radiation therapy for more advanced stages. In certain cases of stage I cancer, your doctor may suggest lymph node removal or a hysterectomy (if the uterus is still present) and/or removal of a portion of the vagina.
Your hysterectomy surgery may consist of minimally invasive techniques. This usually involves a form of laparoscopic removal or robotic hysterectomy any effected reproductive organs or tissues.
The surgical procedures that may be used include:
- Simple or total hysterectomy
- Radical hysterectomy
- Robotic laparoscopic hysterectomy with possible bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO)-removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries
- Robotic radical hysterectomy with sentinel lymph node mapping (SLN) vs. pelvic lymph node dissection
- Fertility-sparing procedures
- Partial vaginectomy (removal of a portion of the vaginal walls)
- Radical partial vaginectomy (removal of a portion of the vagina and some of the surrounding tissues) with possible pelvic lymph node dissection.
If you think you may be exhibiting some signs of vaginal cancer, or simply want to learn more about this disease, we encourage you to contact us at 281-203-5115.
If you are experiencing life threatening symptoms or conditions please call 911 or visit your local emergency location.