Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that occurs in the vagina. The vagina is the muscular tube that connects the uterus with outer genitals. It is common for vaginal cancer to occur in the cells that line the surface of the vagina. The surface of the vagina is sometimes called the birth canal.
Other types of cancer can spread to the vagina from other parts of your body. However, it is possible to develop a cancer cell in the vagina too. The best chance for a cure for vaginal cancer is the diagnosis of an early-stage vaginal cancer. If cancer spreads beyond the vagina, it will be much more difficult to treat.
Frequently, vaginal cancer does not cause early symptoms. The cancer cells can be found during a pelvic exam and Pap test. However, it would be best for you to consult a doctor if you experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Pelvic pain
- Watery vaginal discharge
- Unusual vaginal bleeding
- A lump in your vagina
- Painful and frequent urination
- Pain during sexual intercourse
An exam of your body to check general signs of your health, including checking for the signs of a disease, will be beneficial to diagnose vaginal cancer. Your doctor will also want to review your health history and treatment types to decide if you are at risk of having vaginal cancer.
A pelvic exam involves an exam of your vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, uterus, rectum, and ovaries. Your doctor will insert a speculum into your vagina during a pelvic exam to look for signs of disease. A speculum is a medical instrument that doctors use to perform a more detailed exam of the vagina. A Pap test can also be done at this stage.
Pap test is the procedure that is performed to collect cells from the surface of your cervix and vagina. The cells that are collected will be viewed under a microscope in order to find out if they are abnormal.
The HPV test is a laboratory test that is used to check DNA or RNA for specific types of HPV infection. Cells will be collected from your cervix in this procedure. Then, DNA or RNA from the cells will be checked to determine whether an infection is caused by a type of HPV. An HPV test can be done using the same samples of collected cells of the Pap test.
Colposcopy is a lighted and magnifying instrument that is performed in order to check your vagina and cervix for abnormal cells. Your doctor may take tissue samples to check under a microscope for signs of cancer via a curette, which is a spoon-shaped device.
A biopsy is a procedure that removes the cells or tissues from your vagina and cervix so that collected cells or tissues can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist in order to check for signs of cancer. A pathologist is a medical doctor who will examine your body and body tissues. A biopsy can be done during colposcopy if a Pap test shows abnormal cells in your vagina.
Several steps will be taken in order to determine the extent of your cancer once your doctor diagnoses the existence of vaginal cancer. This process is called staging. Your doctor may use the following test in order to determine the stage of your cancer.
CT scan is a procedure that makes a series of thorough pictures of areas inside your body, such as your abdomen or pelvis. Your doctor will scan your pictures via a computer, which is linked to an X-ray machine. Your doctor may inject a dye into your vein to help the organs or tissues appear more clearly.
MRI, or magnetic resonance imaging, is a procedure that uses radio waves, magnet, and a computer in order to make a series of thorough pictures of areas inside your body.
PET scan, or positron emission tomography scan, is a procedure to find out malignant tumor cells in your body. Your doctor will inject a small amount of radioactive glucose into your vein. Then, your PET scanner will rotate around your body to take a picture of where glucose is being used in your body.
Cystoscopy is a procedure to look inside your bladder and urethra in order to check for abnormal cells. Your doctor will insert a cystoscope through the urethra into the bladder. A cystoscope is a tube-like device that has a light and a light that help your doctor view your body. The device also has a tool to remove tissue samples. Removed tissue samples can be checked under a microscope for signs of cancer.
Proctoscopy is a procedure to look inside your rectum and anus to check for abnormal areas. Your doctor will use an instrument that is called a proctoscope. A proctoscope is a thin and tube-like device. The device also has a tool to remove tissue samples, just like a cystoscope.
There are several different types of vaginal cancer. It should be noted that the type of cancer depends on the particular type of cell that cancer developed from. Your doctor will perform a biopsy to find the type of cancer you have.
Squamous cell cancers are the most common type of vaginal cancer. They are most likely to occur in the upper third of your vagina. Squamous cell cancers are flat and skin-like cells that cover the surface of the vagina. Studies have shown that more than 8 out of 10 vaginal cancers are squamous cell cancer. The tumors can look like small lumps or sores.
There may be precancerous changes to the cells before squamous cell cancer develops. These changes in the cells are called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VaIN). Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia means that there are abnormal cells. However, it should be noted that vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia is not cancer.
Verrucous carcinoma is a rare variant of squamous cell carcinoma. Verrucous carcinoma is a large wart and a slow growing tumor. It is very unlikely for verrucous carcinoma to spread to other parts of the body. The tumor can be treated with surgery, even if it can be very large.
Adenocarcinoma is much rarer than squamous cell carcinoma. Adenocarcinoma starts in the gland cells in the linen of your vagina. It should be noted that adenocarcinoma can also occur in a young woman.
This sort of vaginal cancer can be hard to diagnose since they are rare. Cancer can be hidden inside your vaginal canal. It can be challenging for doctors to tell whether adenocarcinomas started in the vagina or in a nearby organ.
Clear cell adenocarcinoma is a rare type of vaginal cancer. This type of cancer only develops in young women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol drugs when they were pregnant.
Papillary adenocarcinoma can grow throughout the connective tissues that surround your vagina. These tumors are less likely to spread into nearby lymph nodes.
Mucinous adenocarcinoma is the pool of mucus that can be seen around the cancer cells when you look at it under a microscope.
This type of vaginal cancer is made up of a combination of squamous and gland cells. Adenosquamous carcinoma can also be known as epithelial tumors medically. Adenosquamous carcinoma is very rare but is a quickly growing tumor.
This type of cancer starts in the connective tissues of your body. Connective tissues form the structure of your body, such as bone, cartilage, muscle, and fat. Sarcomas are extremely rare, yet they can grow quite quickly.
Leiomyosarcoma is a rare type of cancer that originates from the smooth muscle of your vaginal wall. It can start in the vagina. This type of sarcoma is diagnosed at an advanced stage.
Rhabdomyosarcoma is the prevalent soft tissue tumor of childhood. It is characterized by its poor prognosis.
Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is a very rare type of vaginal sarcoma. It can only be observed in the girls up to the age of six. Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma is generally recognized by small soft lumps that fill the vagina. However, there are cases that embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma can be seen outside of the vagina.
Vaginal melanoma develops from the cells in your skin that produce pigment. Pigment gives the skin its color. Vaginal melanoma is most likely to develop in the lower third of your vagina.
As an extremely rare case of vaginal cancers, oat cell carcinoma, or small cell, gets its name from oat because of its distinctive shapes.
Cancer cells have invaded deeper tissue layers of your vagina in this stage. However, they have not spread beyond the vagina to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
Cancer cells have reached the connective tissue surrounding your vagina. However, they have not spread beyond the vagina to nearby structures or lymph nodes.
Cancer cells have spread beyond the vagina to the walls of your pelvis and/or nearby lymph nodes. However, they have not spread to distant organs.
Stage four vaginal cancer is divided into two subcategories:
Cancer has spread beyond the vagina to your nearby organs, such as your bladder or rectum. Cancer cells may have reached nearby lymph nodes. However, they have not reached distant organs.
Stage IVB is the most advanced. Cancer cells have reached distant organs, such as the lungs.
There are several treatments that are available for patients diagnosed with vaginal cancer. Some treatments are called standard, whereas some are being tested in clinical trials.
Surgery is a standard treatment alternative for both vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VaIN) and vaginal cancer.
Laser surgery is a surgical process that uses a laser beam as a knife to make bloodless incisions in tissue. A laser beam can be performed to remove a surface lesion.
Wide local excision is a surgical approach that takes out cancer, as well as some of the healthy tissue around cancer.
Vaginectomy is a surgery, which is performed in order to remove all or part of your vagina. Skin grafts from other parts of your body may be needed to reconstruct your vagina.
Total hysterectomy is a surgery, which is performed to remove your uterus, a well as the cervix. The operation is called a vaginal hysterectomy if your uterus and cervix are taken out through the vagina. If your uterus and cervix are taken out through a large incision in your abdomen, then the operation is known as a total abdominal hysterectomy. The operation is, therefore, called a total laparoscopic hysterectomy if your uterus and cervix are taken out through a small incision in your abdomen with a laparoscope.
Lymph node dissection, or lymphadenectomy, is a surgical approach that removes lymph nodes. Then, a sample of tissue is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. Yout pelvic lymph nodes may be removed if the cancer is in your upper vagina. Lymph nodes in your groin may be removed if the cancer is in your lower vagina.
Pelvic exenteration is a surgical approach to remove your ovaries, cervix, vagina, lower colon, rectum, and bladder. It is possible to remove the nearby lymph nodes.
It is sometimes possible for some patients to receive radiation therapy after surgery to kill any cancer cells.
Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. There are two types of radiation therapy.
External radiation therapy utilizes a machine outside the body in order to send radiation toward the area of the body with cancer.
Internal radiation therapy utilizes a radioactive substance sealed in needles, seeds, wires, or catheters that are placed directly into or near cancer.
Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. When chemotherapy is taken by mouth or injected into a vein or muscle, the drugs enter the bloodstream and can affect cancer cells throughout the body. When chemotherapy is placed directly into the cerebrospinal fluid, an organ, or a body cavity such as the abdomen, the drugs mainly affect cancer cells in those areas. The way the chemotherapy is given depends on the type and stage of the cancer being treated.
Topical chemotherapy for squamous cell vaginal cancer may be applied to the vagina in a cream or lotion.