Vaginal Cancer

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Vaginal cancer is any type of cancer that affects the vagina. It is a rare condition that is most common among postmenopausal women; however, the condition can affect people at any age, including infants. Several studies have found a correlation between the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) and occurrences of vaginal cancer. Doctors administered DES to pregnant women between 1945 and 1970 as a precaution against miscarriages. Vaginal cancer occurs at a higher rate among populations of women who have taken this drug. Types There are several types of vaginal cancer. There are three primary forms and several forms that are less common. Common types include vaginal squamous cell carcinoma and vaginal adenocarcinoma. Less common types include vaginal germ cell tumors and sarcoma botryoides. Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma: This form of vaginal cancer affects the lining in the upper part of the vagina. It occurs most commonly among women above the age of 60. Vaginal adenocarinoma: This type of vaginal cancer affects the gland cells that line the vagina. It typically affects women who are under the age of 30. Malignant melanoma sarcomas: These are rare forms of vaginal cancer. Vaginal germ cell tumors: These rare tumors affect babies and children. Sarcoma botryoides: These types of tumors affect infants and children. Symptoms Because vaginal cancer is rare, the condition is difficult to diagnose. Many people show no symptoms until the condition has advanced and become more extensive. The most common symptoms, when they do develop, resemble other gynecological conditions and cancers. Common symptoms include bleeding and discharge that occur in between periods or after menopause, pain while urinating, and pain in the pelvic area. Causes/Risk Factors Risk factors that lead to vaginal cancer include smoking, age, cervical cancer, a hysterectomy, genital warts caused by HPV, and radiation treatment for other cancers in the pelvic region. Vaginal cancer does not have a specific identifiable cause. Tests/Diagnosis Doctors begin with routine pelvic exam to diagnose vaginal cancer. A doctor will manually examine the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum to check for masses or abnormalities. A doctor will also conduct a pap smear to identify potentially abnormal cells. If abnormal cells are present, the doctor will order a biopsy. A coloscopy is the next level of testing: a doctor will insert a small camera into your vagina. A CT scan or MRI allows doctors to distinguish abnormal masses from healthy tissue. Treatment Doctors treat vaginal cancer with surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. Through surgery, a doctor will remove any tumors, regardless of the vaginal cancer’s stage. The doctor will use one or a combination of four procedures including laser surgery, wide local excision, a vaginectomy, and exenteration. Radiation therapy uses high energy beams to shrink tumors and destroy cancer cells. A doctor might also prescribe oral or intravenous chemotherapy. Chemotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with radiation.

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