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Vaginal Cancer - Risks & Treatments

Feb 26, 2008
In the United States, about 80,000 women are diagnosed with gynecological cancer each year. Vaginal cancer being one form of gynecological cancer. While all gynecological cancers are grouped together they vary in terms of treatment & symptoms. Gynecological cancers include the uterus, ovaries, cervix, vulva, vagina, fallopian tubes & placenta.

Knowledge about gynecological cancer continues to grow every day as better treatment options become available. When facing a diagnosis of vaginal cancer or other types of gynecological cancer, make sure that your gynecologic oncologists provide the best information, comfort, and support to help you every step of the way.

About vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is a disease wherein malignant (cancer) cells form in the vagina. The vagina is a canal leading from the cervix (the opening of the uterus) to the outside of the body. At birth a baby passes out of the body through the vagina (also called the birth canal). Understand that vaginal cancer can be cured if detected in the first stages.

Typically, there are two types of vaginal cancer:

Squamous cell carcinoma: this is cancer that forms in the squamous cells; these are the flat thin cells lining the vagina. This form of vaginal cancer tends to stay near the vagina and spreads slowly. If left unchecked, it may also spread to the liver and lungs. This is the type of vaginal cancer found most often in women over the age of 60.

Adenocarcinoma: this is cancer that begins in the glandular cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the vagina make and release fluids such as mucus. This type of vaginal cancer is most often found in women 30 or younger.

Vaginal cancer risk factors:

1. Age 60 or older
2. Being exposed to DES while in the womb. This was a drug used in the 50's to prevent miscarriage.
3. Having human papilloma virus (HPV) infection
4. Having an abnormal cell history in the cervix or cervical cancer
5. Vaginal cancer symptoms

The best method to finding vaginal cancer early may be doing a routine Pap test. Typically, symptoms that occur may be masked by other conditions.

You should consult with your doctor if any of the following problems occur:

1. Non-menstrual cycle related bleeding or discharge
2. Pain or discomfort in the pelvic area
3. If you find a lump in the vagina
4. Pain during intercourse

Vaginal cancer testing

The following procedures may be used to detect vaginal cancer:

Physical exam: exam of the body to check overall health, including checking for lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A patient history will also be taken to determine past illnesses and treatments.

Pelvic exam: your doctor will examine the vagina, cervix, fallopian tubes, uterus, ovaries, and rectum.

Pap smear: a sample of cells from the surface of the vagina and cervix will be used to determine under microscope if they are normal.

Biopsy: if the Pap smear uncovers abnormal cells, any Pap smear or removal of cells and tissues from the vagina and cervix may be done and examined under microscope pathologist to determine the existence of cancer.

Vaginal cancer recovery and treatment options

The chance of recovery depends on the following:

1. In what stage was the cancer found
2. The size of the tumor
3. The grade or how different from the other selves to tumor cells are
4. Where within the vagina is the cancer
5. The general health and age of the patient
6. Whether the cancer has returned or has just been diagnosed

There are many types of treatment for patients with vaginal cancer

Different kinds of treatments are available for patients with vaginal cancer. Some are standard and some are being tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, patients may want to consider taking part in clinical trials. If a clinical trial reveals that the new treatment is better than the standard, the new treatment often times becomes the standard.

Surgery: surgery is a common treatment for vaginal cancer.

a. Laser surgery
b. Vaginectomy
c. Total hysterectomy
d. Lymphadenectomy
e. Pelvic exenteration

Some patients may also receive radiation therapy after the doctor removes all of the cancer in order to kill any cancer cells that may be left. This treatment is called adjuvant therapy. This has been a brief overview of vaginal cancer, its symptoms, and its treatments. There are many other places to find materials and information about cancer services and treatment. Other resources in your area such as hospitals may provide information about local and regional agencies that provide assistance when dealing with cancer treatments.
About the Author
Tess Barksdale is your average new century woman, author, mother, daughter, friend, and businesswoman. Tess writes on many topics but loves discussing all things women. Find out more about vaginal cancer by visiting Tess at her website at http://womenshealthreport.org or her blog at http://womenshealthreport.org/blog
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