Vaginal cancer facts*
*Vaginal cancer facts by John P. Cunha, DO, FACOEP
- Vaginal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina. Vaginal cancer is not common. When found in early stages, it can often be cured.
- There are two main types of vaginal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
- Risk factors for vaginal cancer include being aged 60 or older, being exposed to DES while in the mother's womb, human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, and having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or cervical cancer.
- Symptoms of vaginal cancer include bleeding or discharge not related to menstrual periods, pain during sexual intercourse, pain in the pelvic area, and a lump in the vagina.
- To diagnose vaginal cancer, a doctor may do a pelvic exam, pap smear, biopsy, or colposcopy.
- Treatment for vaginal cancer includes surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
- The prognosis depends on the stage of the cancer and whether it has spread, the size of the tumor, the grade of tumor cells, where the cancer is within the vagina, whether there are symptoms, the patient's age and general health, and whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred.
What is vaginal cancer?
Vaginal cancer is a disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina.
The vagina is the canal leading from the cervix (the opening of uterus) to the outside of the body. At birth, a baby passes out of the body through the vagina (also called the birth canal).
Vaginal cancer is not common. When found in early stages, it can often be cured. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. It is found most often in women aged 60 or older.
- Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the vagina make and release fluids such as mucus. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. It is found most often in women aged 30 or younger.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/18/2014
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