If Breast Cancer is one of the commonest forms of cancer, one of the rarer forms of cancer is Vaginal cancer.
This cancer constitutes only 3 % of all known gynecological cancers. This form of cancer is more common among women who are of age sixty and above.
The vagina is the three to four inch long passage, also known as the birth canal that connects the cervix, which is the mouth of the uterus and the outer female genitalia or the vulva.
While the causes of vaginal cancer are not properly understood, there are certain factors that increase one’s risk of developing vaginal cancer:
- If a woman has the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection or has had genital warts that are the manifestation of this infection
- If a woman’s mother took diethylstilbestrol (DES) when pregnant with her. This was prescribed by doctors to prevent miscarriage during the 1950’s and 1960’s, known to have increased the risk of vaginal cancer in those women who had fetal exposure to DES
- If a woman is over 60 she is more at risk from squamous cell vaginal cancer
- If a woman suffers from or has a history of cervical cancer
- Smoking can also increase risk
- If a woman has had radiation on to the pelvic area
A vaginal cancer can be detected by virtue of a pap smear which can detect any abnormal cells that are precursors to cervical as well as vaginal cancer. Vaginal cancer is a bit of a silent killer since it does not manifest any early signs.
The common symptoms such as bleeding not connected to menstruation, detection of a vaginal lump or pain in the pelvic area during intercourse, do not manifest themselves till the cancer has advanced a fair bit. Early detection is the key to any chance of reversing or curing vaginal cancer.
There are two main kinds of vaginal caner:
Squamous cell carcinoma develops in the thin, flat cells lining the vagina or the squamous cells. This form of vaginal cancer spreads slowly and is usually localized to the vagina; however it may spread to the liver and lungs.
Adenocarcinoma begins in glandular (secretory) cells which are responsible for release of mucosa in the vaginal area. This kind of vaginal cancer is less common and is seen more in younger women of 30 years or less.