Vaginal cancer occurs when a tumor develops in the vagina. Around 1,000 American women get vaginal cancer each year, making it quite a rare female cancer.
There are certain circumstances that may increase a woman’s risk of getting vaginal cancer. These are:
• Having a chronic pain syndrome or itching of the vulva
• Having previously had a pre-cancer of the vulva or cervix
• Having a history of unprotected sexual intercourse and sexually transmitted HPV.
• Having an immune system disorder or illness such as HIV
• Women over 60
What are the signs of vaginal cancer?
Symptoms of vaginal cancer can also be symptoms of other conditions and may not necessarily mean the affected woman has cancer, but any unusual symptoms should be investigated by a doctor to rule out or confirm a diagnosis. Signs and symptoms include:
• Heavy vaginal discharge
• Bleeding that is not a period and/or heavy bleeding if this is not usual for the woman
• Pain during sexual intercourse or when passing urine
• Pelvic pain
• Abdominal pain
• Blood in the urine or stool
• A lump in the vagina.
How is it Diagnosed?
A pelvic examination will be performed by the doctor or nurse to check for any lumps or other abnormalities. This is done by inserting a gloved finger into the vagina. The abdomen will also be palpated to feel for lumps and ascertain the position and size of the uterus and ovaries. A smear test will also be offered to screen for cervical cancer. This is done by inserting a metal instrument called a speculum into the vagina to hold open the vaginal walls. A tiny sample of cells are then scraped from the cervix to be analyzed for the presence of cancer. However, this test only detects cervical cancer and not vaginal cancer.A full sexual health history will also be taken from the patient. An instrument called a colposcope can also be used to further examine the vagina. This is a type of magnifying glass that allows the doctor to see more clearly. If there are lumps, samples of these can be taken (a biopsy) to see if they contain cancer.
Treatment for Vaginal Cancer