Vaginal Cancer: Types, Warning Symptoms, Risk Factors, And Prevention

Date May 11, 2018

Vaginal cancer isn't talked about very often, as it's rather uncommon, even compared to other cancers of the female reproductive system. But it's important to know its symptoms and your personal risk, as the disease may be easily mistaken for some other problem with female organs by those who are affected.

In this article, we list symptoms, types, risk factors, and a few ways to lower the risk of vaginal cancer.

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Types of vaginal cancer

Types of cancer which can start in the vagina are the following:

  • squamous cell carcinoma, which starts in the thin, flat cells lining the surface of the vagina (this is the most common type);
  • adenocarcinoma, starts in the mucus-producing cells lining the vagina;
  • melanoma, starts in pigment-producing cells called melanocytes;
  • sarcoma, starts in the connective tissue cells or muscle cells in the vaginal wall.

Of these four types, the two latter types are the rarest.

Symptoms of vaginal cancer

The disease is often symptomless in the beginning. But as the cancer grows, the following symptoms appear:

  • bleeding between periods (in women who still menstruate);
  • bleeding after menopause (in menopausal women);
  • pelvic pain;
  • pain and/or bleeding during intercourse;
  • odorous and/or bloody discharge;
  • vaginal itching;
  • a lump in the vagina;
  • frequent urge to pee;
  • pain when peeing.

These symptoms are much more likely to be caused by something other than vaginal cancer, such as a urinary tract infection or a vaginal infection. But, regardless of their cause, these symptoms should be evaluated by your gynecologist.

READ ALSO: 6 Facts About Pap Test, A Screening Tool Used To Detect Cervical Cancer

Who is at a higher risk of vaginal cancer?

Some women are more likely than others to get vaginal cancer. Factors that increase the risk of the disease include the following:

  • being aged older than 60;
  • vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia, a precancerous condition;
  • being born to a mother who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy (this practice lasted from 1938 to 1971);
  • having other cancer, such as cancers of the bladder, rectum, uterus, and cervix;
  • being infected with HIV;
  • being infected with certain strains of HPV;
  • smoking;
  • excess drinking.

It's important to stress that some women who get diagnosed with vaginal cancer have no known risk factors. And many women who have one or more risk factors never get vaginal cancer.

Is there a way to lower the risk of vaginal cancer?

There is no surefire way to prevent vaginal cancer or any type of cancer, for that matter. But there are things you can do to lower your risk of the disease:

  • don't smoke, and avoid exposure to secondhand smoke;
  • limit alcohol to a minimum;
  • have sex only with the one trusted partner;
  • get regular pelvic exams and Pap tests;
  • get vaccinated against HPV, if your doctor deems this measure appropriate for your age.

Vaginal cancer is highly treatable if found early. If you are worried about getting the disease, discuss prevention measures and your personal risk with your gynecologist.

Source: Mayo Clinic, American Cancer Society, WebMD

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This article is solely for informational purposes. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate, and in all cases consult a certified healthcare professional before using any information presented in the article. The editorial board does not guarantee any results and does not bear any responsibility for any harm that may result from using the information provided in the article.