A malignant tumor of the female vagina is referred to as vaginal cancer or vaginal carcinoma, although it occurs quite rarely. Several types are distinguished, with the so-called squamous cell carcinoma being the most frequently occurring tumor with over 90 percent of cases. In the remaining ten percent of cases, either black skin cancer or adenocarcinomas are the triggers for vaginal cancer.
What is vaginal cancer?
Doctors also refer to vaginal cancer as vaginal carcinoma – this disease mainly affects women between the ages of 60 and 65. See deluxesurveillance for Hypocalcemia Guide.
A distinction is made between primary and secondary vaginal cancer, with the latter occurring much more frequently. In this case, the tumors develop from other neighboring organs – very often, vaginal cancer is preceded by cervical cancer.
In primary vaginal cancer, on the other hand, it develops directly from the cells of the vagina. Vaginal cancer is a very rare disease – only about one to two percent of all malignant tumors of the female genital organs are vaginal cancer.
The causes of vaginal cancer are varied and in some cases still unexplored – but one of the known main causes is an infection with the so-called human papilloma virus. These are the triggers for numerous sexually transmitted diseases.
Another cause of vaginal cancer is diethylstilbestrol, also known as DES for short. This was given to women during pregnancy until it was banned in 1971 to prevent miscarriage.
Women who have taken this artificial estrogen are much more likely to develop vaginal cancer because the effect of this drug is long-lasting. Thus, vaginal cancer can break out years or even decades after taking the hormone.
Symptoms, Ailments & Signs
Vaginal cancer progresses initially without clear signs of illness. In the first stages, non-specific symptoms such as increased vaginal discharge, heavy bleeding between periods or an unusual feeling of pressure in the vagina occur. These abnormalities can indicate vaginal carcinoma, but they often have harmless causes.
An advanced disease finally causes increasingly heavy bleeding and pain. These occur mainly during sexual intercourse and when urinating and subside quickly. Larger cancers make urination and bowel movements difficult. Affected women also suffer from severe nerve pain, which can be localized on the back or legs.
At the same time, sensory disturbances or symptoms of paralysis in the limbs often occur. If left untreated, cancer will continue to progress and eventually spread to nearby tissues and organs. The cervix, bladder, outer vagina and rectum are particularly affected, but also the lymph nodes, liver, lungs and bones.
Very large carcinomas can cause circulatory disorders, urinary retention and other complications. Prompt treatment can prevent complications of this kind. After the cancer is removed, the symptoms usually subside quickly. Vaginal cancer is usually not visible externally.
Diagnosis & History
Vaginal cancer is usually not clearly recognizable due to individual symptoms. In some women, vaginal cancer can cause bleeding after intercourse or a discharge, but these symptoms are also conceivable with numerous other diseases.
Only in the advanced stage of the disease does vaginal cancer cause abdominal pain or disorders of the urinary bladder or intestines. Vaginal cancer is therefore usually detected by chance during preventive check-ups at the gynecologist’s. In this case, the gynecologist takes a tissue sample from the mucous membrane of the female vagina, the so-called cell smear.
This is examined in the laboratory – with this examination, the vaginal cancer can then usually be clearly diagnosed. If vaginal cancer has been diagnosed, it must now be recognized how far it has already spread and whether it has metastasised in other organs. The cervix, rectum and urinary bladder are often affected; rather rarely, the metastases radiate to the lungs, liver or bones.
In the worst case, the disc cancer spreads to other parts of the body. Then tumors can grow into the neighboring organs – i.e. cervix, vulva, bladder and rectum – or spread via the lymphatic system. Rarely, the metastases settle in the liver, lungs and bones. Extension to the pelvis can cause blood supply to other organs to be cut off.
If the ureters are affected, the urine can flow poorly or not at all. The result is urinary retention and severe kidney damage. In general, malignant tumors also result in physical degradation that reduces quality of life and affects mental health. During the surgical removal of the tumors, neighboring organs or anatomical structures can be injured. This can cause bleeding and secondary bleeding.
Injuries to the nerves result, among other things, in a functional loss of the urinary bladder. Due to the bacterial colonization of the vagina, inflammation also occurs relatively frequently, which in turn can lead to the development of inflammatory connecting channels (fistulas) between the urethra and bladder. Loss of function and allergic reactions cannot be ruled out either. Vaginal cancer also tends to recur months or years after treatment has ended.
When should you go to the doctor?
Vaginal carcinoma must always be treated by a doctor. In the worst cases, the cancer can spread to other areas of the body and lead to various symptoms or complications. If the vaginal carcinoma is not treated, the life expectancy of the person affected may also be limited by the disease. A doctor should always be consulted if the person concerned suffers from heavy bleeding between periods. These occur relatively frequently and are usually very strong.
In some cases, there may also be pain during sexual intercourse, and pain may also occur when urinating. It is not uncommon for vaginal carcinoma to become noticeable through sensory disturbances, so that a doctor must be consulted. Circulatory disorders or even urinary retention often occur. If these symptoms occur, a urologist or a gynecologist must be consulted. Further treatment is usually surgical in a hospital. An early diagnosis has a positive effect on the further course of the disease.
Treatment & Therapy
The success of treatment for vaginal cancer primarily depends on when the disease is diagnosed and when treatment is started. Of course, the sooner treatment begins, the better the chances of complete recovery.
As a rule, an attempt will be made to surgically remove the tumor. If this is still in the early stages, this is usually possible without major problems and the vagina can be preserved. Sometimes, however, a complete removal of the vagina or other organs, such as parts of the bladder or bowel, is necessary.
Another possible treatment method for vaginal cancer is radiation or a combination of both treatment methods. When it comes to radiation, doctors differentiate between two treatment methods – radiation from the inside and radiation from the outside. However, unlike other types of cancer, chemotherapy is rarely used.
You can hardly prevent vaginal cancer directly . However, it is important, especially for women over the age of 50, to regularly carry out all necessary check-ups at the gynecologist. The follow-up examinations after the illness has been overcome are just as important as the preventive examinations. In the beginning, these will be carried out every three months, later a half-yearly or annual rhythm will suffice. In addition to a cell smear, an ultrasound examination of the vagina is also carried out during this follow-up check.
After the operation or radiation treatment, the patient should be examined by a gynecologist or in the clinic every three months for the first three years in order to detect a recurrence of the vaginal carcinoma (recurrence) at an early stage. In a detailed discussion, the doctor gets an idea of the general condition of the patient and any symptoms. During the subsequent gynecological examination, the vaginal mucosa is inspected with a special microscope and a sample (PAP smear) is taken.
This is examined in the laboratory for cell changes that can indicate a recurrence. The doctor also performs a vaginal ultrasound, with the help of which he can assess the vagina, uterus, ovaries and bladder. If the doctor finds changes, he will order a computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to rule out metastases. Since recurrences of vaginal cancer are relatively common, it is extremely important to keep to the regular follow-up appointments.
Even between the agreed examinations, the patient should consult a doctor immediately if she notices bleeding, discharge or other changes in the vaginal area. Aftercare also includes psychological support for those affected after cancer treatment. Cancer advice centers, self-help groups and resident therapists can help the patient and her family to cope with the disease and to deal with any problems that arise. In some cases, an inpatient stay at a spa can make sense.
You can do that yourself
Self-help that makes it possible to cure the disease is not possible in the case of vaginal carcinoma. Rather, it must be about knowing possible symptoms of disc cancer. The earlier it is recognized that a carcinoma has formed, the better the prognosis. Regular self-examination in everyday life therefore makes an active contribution to prevention.
Even after treatment has been completed, all follow-up appointments should be kept regularly. This is the only way to ensure that no metastases have developed. Even if the disease cannot be cured primarily through self-help, affected women can improve their quality of life through their own efforts. In addition to general measures such as relaxation techniques, medication and ointments can also help to reduce physical pain.
After the removal of a disc carcinoma, many women suffer from a dry vagina, which can itch and burn in everyday life. Moisturizing ointments can often achieve a great effect here, making the annoying but sometimes very tormenting side effects of the treatment bearable. Moisturizing creams for the vagina are now available in pharmacies without a prescription. However, cancer patients should always discuss all ointments and medications used in the vagina with the doctor treating them.