This is a rare form of cancer that affects the vagina. The vagina is a muscular tube connecting the outer genitals and the uterus, and is often called the birth canal.
Cancer usually spreads from other organs to the vagina, and a cancer originating in the vaginal cells itself is quite a rare occurrence.
Vaginal cancer shows the following symptoms
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse or menopause
- Abnormal fluid discharge from the vagina
- Development of a lump in the vaginal walls
- Pain during urination
- Severe pelvic pain
The specific reason for a vaginal cancer cannot be pinpointed, however a cancer generally occurs when genetic mutations of the cells causes them to grow out of control and not die at the same rate.
Types of Vaginal Cancer
- Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma- it is the most common type and begins in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the vaginal surface.
- Vaginal adenocarcinoma- it begins in the glandular cells on the vaginal surface.
- Vaginal melanoma- it develops in the melanocytes (pigment-producing cells) of the vagina.
- Vaginal sarcoma- it develops in the connective tissue cells and/or muscle cells in the vaginal walls
The biggest risk with vaginal cancer is that it can spread to other organs like lungs, liver, etc.
The following methods are used to diagnose vaginal cancer-
- Physical examination of the vagina for any lumps or abnormal masses by the doctor.
- Biopsy of vaginal tissue.
- Imaging techniques like MRI, CT scan, Ultrasound, etc.
- Laparoscopy may be used to view the organs inside the body for any possible spreading of the tumor.
The treatment of the cancer depends upon the severity of cancer, the extent of its spreading and other factors such as age and overall health.Surgical methods involve-
- Removal of tumors that are small - the tumor cells are cut off along with a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding them, to ensure the cancer cells are removed.
- Vaginectomy - partial or complete removal of the vagina may be required to ensure the removal of the cancer.
- Pelvic Exenteration - this is a major surgery in which a majority of the pelvic organs such as uterus, Fallopian tubes, ovaries are surgically removed along with the vagina to remove all of the cancerous growth.
In case of removal of the vagina, there is a chance to construct a new vagina, using pieces of skin and/or sections of muscle from other parts of the body.
Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may also be used to destroy the cancerous growth.
- The patient is advised complete rest for sufficient period, accompanied with rehabilitation
- Cancer can be emotionally disturbing to anyone, and hence, it is important for the woman to have good emotional support after coming through the treatment
- Extreme physical activities should be avoided till full recovery