Understanding Vaginal Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Understanding Vaginal Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Treatment & Prevention

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Vaginal cancer | cancerGO

What is Vaginal cancer?

Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects the lining of the vagina. This type of cancer is most commonly found in women over 60. However, it can occur in women of any age. The exact cause of vaginal cancer is unknown, but certain risk factors can increase the likelihood of its development.

Risk Factors

  • Increasing age
  • HPV infection: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a viral infection that can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer.
  • Smoking or other tobacco use
  • History of cervical or vulvar cancer
  • History of radiation therapy to the pelvic area for other cancers

Symptoms

The symptoms associated with vaginal cancer can vary for each woman, and may not be the same for all. The most common symptoms associated with vaginal cancer include:

  • Vaginal bleeding: Vaginal bleeding, especially after menopause, is one of the most common symptoms of vaginal cancer.
  • Vaginal discharge: Vaginal discharge that is abnormal in color, consistency, or smell may be a symptom of vaginal cancer.
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Vaginal itching or burning
  • Vaginal lump or mass
  • Constipation

Diagnosis

If a woman has any of the symptoms experienced above, she may seek evaluation by her healthcare provider. A variety of things can be done to evaluate these symptoms.

A pelvic exam is usually the first step in diagnosing vaginal cancer. The healthcare provider will look for any abnormalities in the vaginal area.

A biopsy is a procedure in which a small sample of tissue is taken from the abnormal area and examined under a microscope. This can be done for any suspicious areas seen by the healthcare provider. This ultimately confirms a cancer diagnosis.

Imaging tests such as CT, MRI, or PET scans may be done to better look at cancer and determine how far it has spread.

Treatment

Treatment options for vaginal cancer include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment for vaginal cancer. The type of surgery will depend on the stage of cancer and may include removal of the cancerous tissue, hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), or removal of lymph nodes.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy beams to kill cancer cells. It may be given alone or in combination with surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be given alone or in combination with radiation therapy.

The treatment plan will vary depending on the stage and location of cancer. Early detection and prompt treatment can greatly improve the chances of a successful outcome.

Women need to be aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with this disease. Early detection is key to successful treatment and survival rates. If you have any concerns about your health, please speak with your doctor.

Julie Scott, DNP
Julie Scott, DNP
Julie is an oncology certified Oncology Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of medical oncology experience. In addition to her clinical work, she is an accomplished healthcare writer providing oncology content for various publications. She also serves as an adjunct faculty member for a Master's nursing program and a chair for Doctoral nursing students.

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