We know a diagnosis of vaginal cancer can be hard. Let our gynecological cancer experts at Spectrum Health Cancer Center help. As a team, let's work together to create a customized treatment plan designed especially for you.
Vaginal cancer is rare, with only about 4,000 U.S. cases a year. A PAP smear (test for cervical cancer) detects vaginal cancer. A gynecological exam can also show abnormalities in the vagina, but there may be no symptoms at all. Pain during intercourse, abnormal bleeding or a lump in the vagina may occur. With early detection, it is highly treatable.
Treatments for Vaginal Cancer
Your treatment options for vaginal cancer depend on several factors, including the type and its stage. The most common treatments include surgery and radiation, but if those can’t control your cancer, you may be offered other treatments, including chemotherapy or clinical trials.
This well-known cancer treatment uses medicines taken intravenously or by mouth to kill cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink tumors, or after to fight cancer cells that have potentially spread.
This surgery removes cancerous tissue and a surrounding rim of healthy tissue. It's also called wide excision. In early stages, this may be all that's needed if lymph nodes are clear.
A team of medical professionals with advanced training deliver radiation treatment and care.
This surgery removes the portion of the vagina that is cancerous. This can be partial, total or, in cases where the cancer has spread, a radical vaginectomy also removes surrounding tissue.
What Is Vaginal Cancer?
Cancer refers to uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body. Vaginal cancer means cancer cell growth in the vagina. The vagina is the tube connecting the uterus with genitals out-side. This cancer often occurs in cells lining the vagina (or birth canal). This rare cancer affects 1 per 200,000 women. It mainly occurs after menopause (change of life). The mean age at diagnosis is 60 years. The cancer can spread (metastasize) to nearby organs or other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymph system.
What Causes Vaginal Cancer?
The cause is unknown. Women whose mothers took a drug called DES (diethylstilbestrol) during pregnancy have a higher risk of getting it, and at a younger age. Anything that causes long-term inflammation of the vagina may increase the risk of this cancer. This includes overuse of a pessary (a device that is put into the vagina to keep it from dropping). Pelvic radiation therapy, infection with human papillomavirus (HPV), and a family history of cancer of reproductive organs may also increase the risk.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer?
Common symptoms include bleeding that isn’t related to normal periods, pelvic pain or pressure, pain and problems when urinating, and pain or bleeding during sex. Constipation and a lump in the vagina can also occur.
How Is Vaginal Cancer Diagnosed?
The health care provider may suspect the diagnosis from symptoms and will perform a pelvic examination to look and feel for inflammation, ulcers, lumps, or tumors. A Pap smear is done. This involves gently scraping the vagina and cervix to collect cells. These are then checked with a microscope. Other tests may include a biopsy, chest X-ray, and computed tomography (CT) of the pelvis and abdomen (belly). A biopsy involves taking a small tissue sample to study with a microscope.
How Is Vaginal Cancer Treated?
Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are used. Which treatment or combination of treatments depends on where and how severe the cancer is and the woman’s age and physical condition. The more the disease spread, the longer and more complicated the treatment. The health care team may include specialists in cancer treatment (oncologists and hematologists), radiation oncologists (specialists who use X-ray therapy to shrink tumors), and surgical oncologists (specialists who use surgery to treat cancer).
Surgery is the most common treatment. Small cancers may have surgery with a laser, a narrow beam of light that can destroy the tumor. Radiation therapy may be used alone or with surgery. Chemotherapy drugs can be used to kill cancer cells. They’re usually given with surgery or radiation.
DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Vaginal Cancer:
- DO keep all appointments with specialists.
- DO follow a good diet to help stamina and coping with treatment’s side effects.
- DO learn about your illness. Find a support group if you think that will help.
- DON’T ignore symptoms. Call your health care provider if your symptoms don’t get better or they worsen with treatment. Call if you get new symptoms.
- DON’T stop taking your medicine or change the dosage because you feel better unless your health care provider tells you to.
Contact the following source:
- American Cancer Society
Tel: (800) 227-2345
- National Cancer Institute
Tel: (1-800) 4-CANCER
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Tel: (202) 638-5577