Cancer of the vagina or the birth canal is the cancer that appears in the 3 to 4 inch area that connects the cervix or the mouth of the uterus to the outer genitalia or the vulva.
Vaginal cancer is one of the rarer, lesser known cancers and is more common among women who are of age 60 and above and manifests itself by malignant cancerous cells being found in the area of the vagina which is habitually in a state of collapse with the walls touching one another.
Vaginal cancer can be a bit of silent enemy because it is often seen not to have any early symptoms. Symptoms often present themselves when the cancer is more advanced however the symptoms that may be indicative of vaginal cancer are:
- bleeding or other discharge that is not related to menstruation,
- pain in the pelvic region
- or a lump felt in the vaginal area.
A pap smear is able to detect this kind of cancer in the early stages and if it is so detected in the earlier stages, then vaginal caner is treatable and can be cured. Surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are the commonly preferred methods of curing it.
Vaginal cancer or the cancer that originates in the vagina is among the rarer forms of cancer and it accounts of only 3% of all female reproductive system cancers.
What is much more common is a cancer that starts in other regions like the uterus, cervix, rectum, or the bladder and then spread to the vagina. Vaginal cancer is also sometime known as primary vaginal cancer.
Though the cause of vaginal cancer is not clearly understood, there are certain risk factors that are known to increase the chances of some women developing it:
- Age is the single most important factor in women who develop vaginal cancer, since this cancer affects women who are older than age 60 usually
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) exposure is seen to be a risk factor in this kind of cancer. If a fetus was exposed to this during the mother’s pregnancy, there is an increased risk
- If there is a history of cancer of the cervix, the mouth of the uterus which is connected to the vagina or if a woman has a history of cervical precancerous conditions
- human papillomavirus (HPV) infection can up the chances of vaginal cancer
- other conditions of the vagina such as adenosis, vaginal irritation, can also increase risk
- uterine prolapse also increases risk
- as with all other cancers, smoking increases risk of getting vaginal cancer as well