What is vaginal cancer?
Vaginal cancer, also known as vagina cancer, is a rare form of cancer located in the vagina. The vagina is part of the female reproductive system. There are two main types of vaginal cancer, which are squamous cell and adenocarcinoma. Around 300 cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed in the UK every year. Secondary vaginal cancer, which means that the cancer has spread from a different part of the body, is more common than primary vaginal cancer.
What are the causes of vaginal cancer?
As with most forms of cancer the specific origin of vaginal cancer is unidentified, though certain risk factors have been identified. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include:
- Age: vaginal cancer is very rare among young women and more than 70 percent of cases involve women aged over 60
- Previous cancer treatment, especially treatment for womb cancer
- Medical conditions
- Exposure to HPV (human papilloma virus)
- HIV or Aids
- Cervical cancer
Symptoms of vaginal cancer
Symptoms of vaginal cancer include:
- Vaginal bleeding
- Pain in the back passage
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Urinating more frequently than usual
- Blood in the urine (between periods)
How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?
If you develop relevant symptoms you should get in touch with your GP for a thorough examination and discussion of your symptoms. If your GP has any suspicion that you have vaginal cancer then they will refer you to a specialist for additional testing. Tests used to diagnose vaginal cancer include:
- An internal examination
- A colposcopy (a colposcope is a very small microscope)
- Cervical screening
The results of the above tests should confirm a diagnosis.
How is vaginal cancer treated?
Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery may be used to treat vaginal cancer and can be used alone or as a combination. The treatment plan will depend on many dynamics, such as the individual's age, their general health and the stage and grade of the cancer.
What is the outlook for vaginal cancer?
The outlook for vaginal cancer depends on the location and size of the tumour and the stage of the cancer. Cancers diagnosed in near the beginning stages has a better prognosis than those diagnosed at an advanced stage and this is why it is essential to visit your GP if you notice any symptoms. The outlook tends to be better for younger women.
Living with vaginal cancer
Coming to terms with vaginal cancer is never an easy situation and you may find that you experience a whole range of symptoms and struggle to cope with a rollercoaster of emotions. Your care team will be on hand to help and offer information, but if you want more information, advice or support, or you simply want to talk to someone, there are UK cancer charities that are waiting for your call.