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Saturday, March 22, 2008

Vaginal Cancer


Vaginal cancer refers to an abnormal, cancerous growth in the tissues of the birth canal (vagina). The vagina is a tube that connects the vulva to the cervix. Cancer occurs when vagina cells in the body divide without control or order.


Vaginal cancer is rare for only 1 percent to 2 percent of all gynecologic cancers. There are approximately 2,000 cases and about 600 deaths each year of this cancer diagnosed in the United States . If vagina cells keep on dividing uncontrollably when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor forms.

Types of Vaginal Cancer

  • Squamous Cell Carcinoma – This is the most common type of vaginal cancer in which vagina arises from the lining squamous cells and accounts for 85 percent of cases. This type of cancer is usually found in older women (aged 60 to 80 years).
  • Adenocarcinoma – It is the type of the cancer in which vagina arises from glands and accounts for 10 percent of vaginal cancer in the U.S.A. This type of cancer is found in women (aged 12 to 30).

The remaining 5 percent cancers are a mixture of vaginal melanomas, sarcomas and lymphomas.


The exact cause of vaginal cancer is unknown.

Risk Factors

The following factors increase the chances of developing vaginal cancer:-

    • Age: The women around 60 and older
    • History of cervical cancer
    • Vaginal adenosis
    • Smoking

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

The symptoms appear when the cancer has become more advanced. Approximately 20 percent of the cases are diagnosed through the Pap test. Some the symptoms of the vaginal cancer are:-

  • Pain in the pelvic area
  • Constipation
  • A mass in the vagina that can be felt
  • Pain during intercourse

Diagnosis of Vaginal Cancer

We can diagnose the vaginal cancer by the following tests:-

  • Pelvic Examination - In this type of test, the examination is done for the vagina and various other organs which are in the pelvis, and this test also checks the tumors, lumps or masses etc.
  • Colposcopy - In this type of test, the cervix for abnormalities is examined by an instrument which has magnifying lenses known as colposcope and if any abnormal tissue is found then the colposcope biopsy is performed on that tissue.
  • Pap Test - This is the test in which examination of cells collected from the cervix is done with the microscope and then the conclusion is drawn whether it is the cancer or not.

Staging of Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is also divided into various stages according to how much it has affected the body. These stages are:-

  • Stage I- In this stage, cancer is limited to the vaginal wall.
  • Stage II- In this stage, cancer extends to tissue outside the vagina but not to the pelvic sidewall.
  • Stage III- In this stage, cancer spreads to the pelvic sidewall.
  • Stage IV- In this stage, cancer spreads beyond the pelvis and extends to the bladder or rectum tissue.

Treatment of Vaginal Cancer

When the stages are described by the doctor as zero or one then Topical chemotherapy and laser surgery can be used. The treatment for vaginal cancer will be based on:-

  • Overall health and medical history
  • Extent of the disease
  • Expectations for the course of the disease

Patients suffering from vaginal cancer can be treated by:-

Surgery -

  • Laser surgery can be done to remove the cancer.
  • Local excision can be done to remove the cancer.
  • Vaginectomy can be done to remove the vagina.

Chemotherapy -

    • Anti- cancer drugs are used to treat the cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can only work when the doctor knows how much the cancer has grown or reproduce. So, the doctor gives the drugs according to the patients ability to fight with the cancer cells
    • Radiation therapy - In this therapy, energy beams are used to kill the cancer cells and tumors can shrink. There are two ways by which radiation therapy can be done-
        • External radiation
        • Internal radiation


  • Internal radiations procedures should be explained to the patients so that they can express their fears.
  • Patients should be encouraged to do active range of- motion exercises with both arms.
  • Patients should be advised to use a stent.
  • Patients should be explained the necessity of immobilization before the radiation treatment.

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