Vaginal cancer is a term that refers to any cancer that occurs in the vagina. The vagina is a hollow, muscular tube that is located on either side of the uterus. It is responsible for the reproductive and sexual functions for women.
Vaginal cancer is one of the leading causes of death for women worldwide. It is the fifth most common cancer in women, and the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women.
Vaginal cancer can be present in the vagina or it can spread from the vagina into the surrounding tissue. The cancer cells can also spread to other organs, such as the bladder, colon, rectum, or uterus.
In the United States, around 7,000 people are diagnosed with vaginal cancer every year. The numbers are higher in developing countries.
Vaginal cancer is more common in women than in men. The incidence of vaginal cancer in women is higher in Caucasian women than in African American women or Hispanic women.
In this article, we discuss the facts about vaginal cancer and its causes, signs and symptoms, and diagnosis and treatment options.
What are the risk factors for vaginal cancer?
The main risk factors for vaginal cancer include:
- The number of sexual partners
- Having an abnormal Pap smear result
- Not getting enough exercise
- Having a history of STDs
- Using oral contraceptives
- Using douching
- Having a previous history of cervical cancer
- Having a history of genital warts
- Having a history of pelvic inflammatory disease
- Having HIV
- Having had a previous pelvic radiation or surgery
- Having a weakened immune system
- Having a previous history of an infection
- Having a weakened immune system before the age of 5 years
- Using hormone replacement therapy
- Using vaginal rings
- Having had an intrauterine device (IUD) inserted
- Having a high-risk type of HPV infection
What are the symptoms of vaginal cancer?
A person may feel the presence of vaginal cancer when examining their own vagina. However, the symptoms may not be present for a long time or may not occur all the time.
The signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer may include:
- Painful urination
- Bleeding from the vagina or rectum
- Abdominal pain
- Pelvic pain
- Rectal bleeding
- Abdominal bloating
- Feeling tired or weak
- Pain during sex
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Trouble having a bowel movement
- A lump in the vagina or near the anus
- A feeling of fullness in the pelvis or abdomen
- A feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen
- Pain in the back
- Difficulty urinating
The symptoms of vaginal cancer may look like other conditions or medical problems. Always talk with a doctor if you have concerns.
How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?
A doctor can usually diagnose vaginal cancer based on your medical history and a physical exam. A doctor may order a biopsy of the affected area. This involves the removal of a small tissue sample and examination under a microscope.
If the doctor suspects cancer, they may order more tests. These may include a chest X-ray, CT scan, or PET scan.
A doctor may also perform a pelvic examination. During this, the doctor will look for any lumps or bumps in the vaginal area.
How is vaginal cancer treated?
The treatment for vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer, how far it has spread, and the person’s overall health.
Surgery may be the primary treatment for vaginal cancer. It may be used to remove the cancer or to help treat it.
In some cases, the doctor may recommend radiation therapy. This is a treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cells in the area. It is usually given after surgery.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be given before or after surgery.
Immunotherapy is a treatment that uses the immune system of the body to fight cancer. It can be given before or after surgery.
Radiation therapy is a treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cells in the area. It is usually given after surgery.
Hormone therapy is a treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells. It is usually not used for vaginal cancer.
Palliative care is a treatment that aims to reduce pain and other symptoms in people with advanced cancer.
What is the long-term outlook for people with vaginal cancer?
The outlook for vaginal cancer varies depending on the person’s overall health and the stage of the cancer.
For vaginal cancer that has not spread, the 5year relative survival rate is 81.5% For all stages. The rate is lower for vaginal cancer that has spread, at around 70%.
Women with vaginal cancer have a better outlook if they have early stage cancer.
Living with vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer is a serious condition that requires treatment. The outlook for people with vaginal cancer is good if they receive the right care.
It is important to follow the doctor’s treatment plan. This will help people manage their symptoms and improve their quality of life.
People can take steps to relieve symptoms, such as:
- Drinking plenty of fluids
- Eating regular meals
- Eating smaller meals throughout the day
- Avoiding spicy and greasy foods
- Avoiding caffeine and alcohol
- Avoiding spicy foods
- Avoiding tobacco products
- Avoiding douching
- Avoiding using vaginal rings
- Avoiding sexual intercourse
- Avoiding using hormone therapy
- Avoiding using hormonal birth control
Vaginal cancer refers to any cancer that occurs in the vagina. It is a type of female reproductive cancer.
The main risk factors for vaginal cancer are age, having a high number of sexual partners, having abnormal Pap smear results, not getting enough exercise, receiving pelvic radiation or surgery, not having enough information about genital warts, having a history of an STD, using oral contraceptives, using a vaginal ring, a history of pelvic inflammatory disease, having HIV, using hormone replacement therapy, having had an IUD inserted, having a history of genital warts, and having a history of pelvic inflammatory disease.
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