Vaginal Cancer: Understanding the Facts

Cancer of any kind is frightening, but for women vaginal cancer is a particularly dreaded diagnosis. Not only is it a serious and life threatening condition, it can also affect women on an emotional level. A woman’s vagina is an important part of a woman’s femininity, and being diagnosed with vaginal cancer can cause women to fear that they could lose this crucial part of their anatomy. Before fearing the worst, women should understand the facts about vaginal cancer, and what it can mean for their lives.

Vaginal Cancer: Understanding the Facts
Vaginal cancer occurs when malignant cancer cells form in the vagina or surrounding area. Thankfully, not only is this type of cancer rare, it can usually be easily treated if it is detected in the early stages. There are two types of vaginal cancer,

Squamous Cell:
This is the most common type of vaginal cancer, and often occurs in women who have already experienced menopause. The squamous cells are the pancake shaped cells that line the inside of the vagina. These cancer cells spread slowly, making it easier to treat, but it can also spread to the lungs and liver if a health care professional is not consulted.

This cancer starts in the glandular cells that are responsible for producing the mucus that often helps to keep the vagina moist and lubricated. These cells are also found in the vaginal lining, and is more likely to spread the cancerous cells to other organs in the body. This type of cancer is more common in women who have not experienced menopause.

Vaginal Cancer in Women
Vaginal Cancer in Women

Causes of Vaginal Cancer
Age often plays a role in a woman developing vaginal cancer, along with exposure to DES. Since it has been banned from pregnant women since the 1960’s, the chances of it still causing cancer is extremely rare. Women who also have  Human papilloma virus (HPV) are also at an increased risk of developing vaginal cancer.

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
In many cases there are no signs a woman has vaginal cancer, and it is only detected through routine pelvic exams. Some women do experience some symptoms, which can include vaginal bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse, or a lump inside the vagina. Other women have reported feeling intense pain in their lower abdomen, along with the pelvic region.

Diagnosing Vaginal Cancer
In most cases the cancer is detected during a routine vaginal or pelvic examination, which can also include a PAP smear. If it is thought that cancerous cell are detected, a health care professional may ask for additional testing. This can include either a biopsy or colposcopy and vaginal cells will be taken for additional testing. While some vaginal discomfort might be experienced during either of the procedures, they are relatively painless and take only seconds to perform.

Chances of Recovering from Vaginal Cancer
While most women can be treated for vaginal cancer, if it is caught early enough, there are some factors that determine her chances of making a full recovery. These can include;

The stage the cancer is in when it is detected.

  • The size of the tumor and the difference between the non cancerous and cancerous cells.
  • Where the cancer is located in the vagina.
  • The age and overall health of the woman.
  • If a woman is experiencing symptoms, and which ones.
  • Whether the cancer is reoccurring or has just been detected.

A woman’s chances of recovering can also be affected by the type of vaginal cancer cells and whether she has had a hysterectomy. A past history of radiation treatment and the tumor’s size can also affect a woman’s recovery.

Treatments for Vaginal Cancer
A woman’s treatment will depend on the type and stage of her vaginal cancer, and often includes a type of surgery. For vaginal cancer in its early stage, the cancer cells can be removed without dramatically affecting the vagina. For more advanced cases, part of the vagina can be removed along with surgeries to remove the lymph nodes and to lower the pelvic and the bladder. A health care professional can discuss which treatment is right for you.

While vaginal cancer is rare, it does affect some women and it can be a frightening experience. Regular exams can help to detect the cancer in its early stages, which dramatically increase a woman’s chances of making a full recovery. One important fact for all women to remember is that they are still feminine even if they are dealing with vaginal cancer.