Vaginal Cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects women; it affects around 250 women year in the UK.
The vagina is a muscular tube that goes from the vulva (folds of skin on the exterior) to the cervix (opening of the womb).
There are two types of cancer that can develop in the vagina:
- – Primary cancer: This cancer will develop and begin in the vagina.
- – Secondary cancer: This is a cancer that develops from another cancer in a different part of the body, usually with cancer of the vagina; the primary cancer is the cervix.
The types of primary cancer found in the vagina are:
- – Squamous cell carcinoma: This is the most common time of cancer found in the vagina; It starts in the squamous cells that line the vagina wall.
- – Adenocarcinoma: This type of cancer is a lot rarer and starts in the glandular cells, it’s more commonly found in women under the age of 30.
- – Other: Rare types of cancer found in the vagina include: sarcoma, small-cell carcinoma, melanoma, lymphoma and clear cell cancers.
DES was a drug given to pregnant women in the 1950’s to prevent miscarriage. Women who took this drug have an increased chance of developing cancer of the vagina and a rare form of it called clear-cell adenocarcinoma.
The older you get the higher your risk increases. Women over 60 are at the highest risk, however, it can affect young women.
Having previous cancers in the womb, ovaries, cervix and other parts of the reproductive system can put you at higher risk.
Human Papilloma Virus (HPV):
This is the most common cause of gynaecological cancers. It can be caught from another person during sexual intercourse.
Exposure to radiation:
Previous radiotherapy for cancers in the reproductive system can put you at higher risk.
Abnormal cells in the cervix will increase your risk of vaginal cancer.
VAIN( Vaginal Intraepithelial Neoplasia):
This is where there are changes to the cells in the lining of the vagina
Signs and symptoms
Symptoms in early vaginal cancer may not be apparent straight away or they can be difficult to spot.
Symptoms of vaginal cancer are:
- – Irregular bleeding in between periods or after menopause
- – Bleeding during or after sex
- – Vaginal discharge with a bad odour
- – Blood stained vaginal discharge
- – Pain during or after sex
- – A lump or growth in the vagina
- – A persistent itch that doesn’t go away
- – Pelvic pain
An early sign and symptom of vaginal cancer are (VAIN) Vaginal Intraepithelial Neoplasia, this condition shows changes to cells and highlights any abnormal/ pre-cancerous cells.
Advanced symptoms of vaginal cancer:
- – Oedema (swelling in your legs)
- – Pain in the pelvic area that gets worse over time and is persistent
- – Change to bowel habits
- – Pain when passing urine
If you get any of these signs or symptoms, please visit your doctor. Most of these symptoms could relate to other conditions, however, if it is cancer, early diagnosis is vital for effective treatment.
Treatment for cancer of the vagina
Surgery is the most common option for localised cancers, however, it’s not a suitable treatment option for advanced cancers or metastatic disease. Other types of treatment are:
- – Radiotherapy
- – Chemotherapy
A clinical trial is a method that uses people to test new cancer treatments, as a result, it’s recommended for people who may not be responding to other treatment. Most clinical trials are in three phases but occasionally can have 4 trials, as well as a fourth trial once the drug has been licensed. Not all clinical trials will work, but the purpose of them is to:
- – Controlling side-effects
- – Cancer prevention
- – New treatments
- – New ways to diagnose cancer
If it’s something you’re interested in, you can discuss it with your cancer specialist, alternatively, search for one in your local area using a clinical trial database.