Vaginal cancer is not a common type of cancer among women. Usually known as a squamous cell skin cancer or what is medically termed as vaginal carcinoma, the disease is known to develop mostly among older women, with the most common diagnosis happening among those who are 60 t0 65 years old. In the United States, vaginal cancer cases make for about one percent of all the gynecologic cancers.
The Cause of Vaginal Cancer
Among all the cases of vaginal cancer, more than 95 percent are squamous cell carcinomas. This is usually caused by the human papillomavirus or the HPV, which is the same virus that causes cancer of the cervix and genital warts. In fact, having vulvar or cervical cancer or even HPV infection could already heighten the risk of developing cancer of the vagina.
Depending on the type of vaginal cancer, it may start on the surface of the lining of the vagina. If this is left untreated, then it will continue to grow and affect other tissues surrounding the lining area. In time, this may enter the lymphatic and blood vessels and then may affect the other organs of the body.
The Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom that could be experienced with vaginal cancer. This may be experienced after or during sexual intercourse, after menopause or in between menstrual period. The lining of the vagina may also have some sores that may bleed and may become infected. There are other symptoms as well and these include pain or discomfort while having sex and a watery discharge.
While there might be a number of women who might not experience any symptoms, there are others, especially those with large cancers, who may feel the need to urinate frequently and then will experience pain during urination. This is because most large cancers will affect the bladder. In advanced stages of vaginal cancer, fistulas or abnormal connections may also be form between the rectum or the bladder and the vagina.
Depending on the stage of the vaginal cancer, a woman may have at least five years to live after she was diagnosed of the disease. This is as long as the cancer is limited to the vagina though. However, if the cancer has already spread towards the rectum or the bladder or beyond the pelvic area, then there will only be about 15 to 20 percent of women having this who will survive.
The treatment of vaginal cancer would also be dependent on its stage. Those that who are still experiencing early stages of the disease may be subjected to surgery that would work at removing the lymph nodes on the pelvis, the uterus, and vagina as well as the upper part of the vagina. Radiation therapy can also be done and usually this will be a combined treatment of internal and external therapy.
However, radiation therapy should not be performed on those who already have fistulas formed between their vagina and their rectum or bladder. In cases such as this, the organs in the pelvic area are usually removed.