Vaginal Cancer – Causes, Symptoms and Treatment

Cancer of the vagina is a rare kind of cancer in women it is a disease in which malignant cells are found in the tissues of the vagina. They usually occur in the top part of the vagina near the cervix, and evolve over a period of many years from precancerous areas called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. There are several types of vaginal cancer. About 85% to 90% of vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas that begin in the epithelial lining of the vagina. About 5% to 10% of vaginal cancers are adenocarcinomas. The usual type of vaginal adenocarcinoma typically develops in women older than 50. It is a rare cancer, representing only about 2% of all gynecologic tumors. There are about 2,000 new cases reported each year in the US.

Causes

Young women whose mothers took DES are at risk for getting tumors in their vaginas. Some of them get a rare form of cancer called clear cell adenocarcinoma. Cigarette smoking places women at increased risk of vaginal cancer. Women who have had cervical cancer or cervical precancerous conditions are at increased risk of vaginal cancer. High risk types of HPV can cause changes in the cells covering the vagina. The changes make the cells more likely to become cancerous in time. But this can take years. The vast majority of women infected with these viruses do not develop cancer of the cervix or vagina.

Symptoms

Between 80% and 90% of women with invasive vaginal cancer have one or more symptoms. About half the women with invasive vaginal cancer have abnormal vaginal bleeding. Other symptoms include a watery discharge and pain during sexual intercourse. A few women have no symptoms. Large cancers can also affect the bladder, causing a frequent urge to urinate and pain during urination. Problems with passing urine, such as blood in the urine, the need to pass urine frequently, and the need to pass urine at night, can also occur. Pain in the rectum may sometimes occur.

Treatment

Surgery is the primary treatment for vaginal cancer. Surgery may require repair or replacement of the vagina. Intensive preoperative and postoperative counseling is essential.

The doctor takes out a small piece of vaginal tissue to send to the laboratory. At the laboratory, a pathologist will look at the tissue under a microscope to determine whether the cells are cancer.

An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. High levels of radiation can be used to treat vaginal cancer. Special equipment is used to aim radiation at tumors and/or diseased tissue. Pelvic radiation often consists of a combination of internal and external radiation.