While Rare, Chance of Vaginal Cancer Increases in Older Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, three types of cancer can result in a women entering menopause and/or experiencing menopausal symptoms. I’ve already focused shareposts on ovarian cancer and uterine cancer (also known as endometrial cancer) so now it’s time to learn about the third type of cancer – vaginal cancer.

    Fortunately, vaginal cancer is rare. The Mayo Clinic reports that this type of cancer occurs in the vagina, which is the muscular tube that connects the uterus with the outer genitals. PubMed Health, which is a service of the U.S. National Library of Medicine, reported that the most frequent type of cancerous vaginal tumors are considered secondary types of cancer caused by the spread of another cancer, such as cervical or endometrial cancer.

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    Interestingly, primary vaginal cancer – which is when the cancer begins in the vagina - rarely occurs.  When this type of cancer does occur, it typically starts with one of four different types of cancer:

    • Squamous cell cancer – The Mayo Clinic explained that this type of cancer begins in the squamous cells, which are thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vagina. This is the most common type of primary vaginal cancer, PubMed Health stated. In fact, women over the age of 50 make up approximately 75 percent of patients diagnosed with squamous cell cancer of the vagina.  The cause of this type of carcinoma of the vagina is unknown, although up to 30 percent of women diagnosed with this disease have had cervical cancer.
    • Adenocarcinoma – The Mayo Clinic reports that this type of cancer begins in the glandular cells on the vagina surface. PubMed Health stated that adenocarcinomas of the vagina often strike younger women; the average age of women who were diagnosed with this type of cancer is 19. Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (known as DES,  which was prescribed to prevent women from having miscarriages) during the first three months of pregnancy are at greater risk for developing this type of cancer. This type makes up 6 percent of the vaginal cancer cases.
    • Melanoma – Melanoma makes up three percent of this type of cancer. The Mayo Clinic described this cancer as developing in the pigment-producing cells of the vagina.
    • Sarcoma – This type of cancer is found in only 3 percent of the cases. The Mayo Clinic states that this type of cancer develops in the connective tissue cells or smooth muscle cells in the vagina walls. PubMed Health reports that the Sarcoma botryoides of the vagina is a rare type of cancer that occurs primarily in infancy and early childhood.

    There are several factors that can increase the risk of vaginal cancer, including increased age, atypical cells in the vagina, exposure to DES, multiple sexual partners, having your first intercourse at an early age, smoking, and HIV infection.

    The symptoms of vaginal cancer include bleeding after sexual intercourse, painless vaginal bleeding and discharge, and pain in the pelvis or vagina, according to PubMed Health. The Mayo Clinic also described additional symptoms, including unusual vaginal bleeding after menopause, a lump or mass in the vagina, painful urination and constipation.  However, PubMed Health reported that up to 10 percent of women who have vaginal cancer do not exhibit any symptoms.

  • Vaginal cancer may be found during a routine pelvic examination and Pap smear. Other tests that can be used to identify these types of tumors include a biopsy and a colposcopy. The doctor also may recommend a chest x-ray and a CT scan of the abdomen and the pelvis. Finding vaginal cancer in its earliest stages gives a woman the best chance for a cure. PubMed Health warns that vaginal cancer can spread to other parts of the body if not found. If it does spread, physicians will have more difficulty treating this disease.

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    Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the type of cancer and its stage. The The typical treatment involves surgery and radiation.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

    Mayo Clinic. (2010). Vaginal cancer.

    PubMed Health. (2010). Vaginal tumors. U.S. National Library of Medicine.

Published On: May 09, 2012