By Dr. Ashok Mehta, Surgical Oncology
Vaginal cancer is rather uncommon and may be of two types: Squamous cell carcinoma which originates from the squamous cell lining; and Adenocarcinoma which arise from the glandular cells. Squamous cell carcinoma is the more common of the two and may spread lymph nodes in groin or pelvis or to other organs such as lungs and liver.
Risk factors include old age, having been subjected to hysterectomy, possessing human papillomavirus or the HPV, having a history of cervical cancer or endometrial cancer. However, exposure to the drug ‘diethylstilbestrol’ (DES) given to mothers for habitual abortion may cause vaginal adenocarcinoma in adolescent girls. Vaginal cancer is curable if detected early during the early stage.
Symptoms of vaginal cancer involve bleeding per vagina which is unrelated to menstrual bleeding, pain during sexual intercourse or urination, vaginal growth or foul-smelling discharge. It is easily detectable through the vaginal exam or routine gynaecological checkup.
Vaginal cancer may be usually treated through radiation using an advanced combination of external beam radiation and brachytherapy (treating cancer by inserting implants which are radioactive directly cancer). Chances of recovery depend on the size and grade of cancer and the stage it if detected in. Patient’s age and general health play a major role in the outcome of treatment.