Another very dangerous disease, which can develop unnoticed as for a long time is called vaginal cancer. But one of the vaginal cancer symptoms will definitely cause concerns, which is abnormal bleeding. Vaginal cancer treatment must have a complex approach and include more that one options to improve the prospect of recovery. Below we will discuss in detail the nature and specific characteristics of this condition, as well as the vaginal cancer treatment options.
This is a rare condition that occurs in the vagina. The vagina is the muscular tube that connects the uterus with the outer genitals. This cancer commonly develops in the cells that line the surface of your vagina (birth canal). Several types of cancer can spread to your vagina from other places in your body; cancer that develops in the vagina is rare.
An early diagnosis of vaginal cancer has the best chance for successful treatment, but it is tough to catch the disease early, as vaginal cancer symptoms are usually vague. If cancer had spread beyond the vagina it becomes more difficult to treat.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF VAGINAL CANCER?
Vaginal cancer can be divided into 4 different types based on the type of cell and where the cancer began. They include:
- Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma: Starts in the thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vagina. This the most common type of vaginal cancer.
- Vaginal adenocarcinoma: Starts in the glandular cells on the surface of your vagina
- Vaginal melanoma: Starts in the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) of your vagina
- Vaginal sarcoma: Starts in the connective tissue cells or muscles cells in the walls of your vagina
VAGINAL CANCER SYMPTOMS
Abnormal vaginal bleeding is one of the most common vaginal cancer symptoms. Vaginal bleeding experienced during or after menopause is not normal and may be a sign of a problem. Other vaginal cancer symptoms are:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge
- Difficulty or pain when urinating
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Pain experienced in the pelvic area (the lower part of the abdomen between the hip bones)
- Pain experienced in the back or legs
- Swelling in the legs
- A lump or mass in your vagina
- Painful urination
- Frequent urination
VAGINAL CANCER TREATMENT OPTIONS
The primary treatment for vaginal cancer is surgery. The removal of the tumor and surrounding tissue is performed during an operation. The type of surgery used is determined by the stage of the cancer and other factors. Surgical options for vaginal cancer treatment are:
- Laser surgery: Focused beam of light that burns the cancer off the skin. It is also used to remove pre-cancerous cells or a tumor. Tissue surrounding the tumor (called a margin) may also be removed to ensure that all cancer has been destroyed.
- Excision: Surgical removal of the tumor and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. Vaginal repair using skin from other parts of the woman’s body may be necessary.
- Vaginectomy: Removal of the vagina that may include pelvic lymph nodes. A reconstructive surgeon can often create a new vagina with grafts of tissue from other parts of the woman’s body. Sexual intercourse will be possible but a lubrication aid needs to be used.
- Radical hysterectomy: Used to remove cancer when it has spread to other parts of the woman’s reproductive system, the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, as well as lymph nodes.
RADIATION THERAPY FOR VAGINAL CANCER TREATMENT
High-energy x-rays or other particles are used to destroy cancer cells. Radiation therapy may be used alone or after surgery. External-beam radiation therapy is the most common type of radiation treatment, whereby radiation is given from a machine outside the body. A radiation therapy regime normally consists of a specific number of treatments given over a fixed period of time.
Internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy is when radiation is given using implants. One method is intracavity radiation therapy where tiny tubes of a radioactive substance are placed in the vagina for one to two days. During this time, the woman must stay in bed. Another method is interstitial radiation therapy where radioactive material is injected directly into the tumor.
The side effects of radiation therapy depend on the dose used, the area targeted, and the type of radiation therapy (internal or external). General side effects from radiation therapy include:
- Mild skin reactions
- Upset stomach
- Loose bowel movements
Soon after treatment is finished, these side effects go away. Specific side effects may include:
- Narrowing of the vagina
- Damage to healthy vaginal tissue
- Irritation of the intestines
Sexual intercourse may become impossible as the vagina shortens and narrows in. The vagina may need to be stretched with a plastic tube called a vaginal dilator several times a week to prevent this.
CHEMOTHERAPY FOR VAGINAL CANCER TREATMENT
Drugs are used to destroy cancer cells usually by stopping the cancer cells’ ability to grow and divide. A chemotherapy regimen usually consists of a specific number of cycles given over a fixed period of time. The goal of chemotherapy is to destroy cancer cells remaining after surgery, slow tumor growth, or reduce side effects. Patients may receive one drug at a time or combinations of different drugs at the same time.
Systemic chemotherapy is delivered through the bloodstream to reach cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy can be given orally but most drugs are given intravenously (IV) for this cancer. It is either injected directly into a vein or through a catheter. Intravaginal chemotherapy (drugs that are put directly into the vagina) may be given to treat early-stage vaginal cancer.
The side effects of chemotherapy vary depending on the individual and the dose used. Side effects may include:
- Risk of infection
- Nausea and vomiting
- Hair loss
- Loss of appetite
These side effects usually go away once treatment is finished. Other side effects may include the inability to become pregnant and symptoms of pre-mature menopause.
DIAGNOSING VAGINAL CANCER
- Routine check-up: A pelvic exam and pap test may be performed to check for abnormalities that may indicate vaginal cancer. According to the findings, other procedures may be conducted to determine whether you have vaginal cancer.
- Inspecting the vagina with a magnifying instrument: Colposcopy is when your vagina is examined with a special lighted magnifying instrument called a colposcope. This allows your doctor to magnify the surface of your vagina to see areas of abnormal cells.
- Removing a sample of vaginal tissue for testing: A sample of suspicious tissue is extracted to test for cancer cells. A sample of tissue may be taken during a colposcopy exam. This sample is sent to a laboratory for testing.