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Vaginal Cancer: Symptoms and Treatments

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 4 Dec 2015 | comments*Discuss
Vaginal Cancer Vain Carcinoma In Situ

Vaginal cancer is quite rare – only about 300 women are diagnosed with it in this country each year. People are much less aware of it compared to the more common conditions such as cervical cancer, endometriosis and ovarian cancer, all of which affect the female genital tract.

The main symptoms of vaginal cancer are changes in the vagina. Some of the symptoms can also be caused by other things but it is a good idea to see your doctor if you notice an unusual blood stained discharge from the vagina that's not related to menstruation. Passing some blood after sex is another symptom and some women notice soreness or lumps in the vagina itself, that may make sex uncomfortable. The inflammation in the vagina can affect the bladder and rectum, and it is possible for vaginal cancer to increase the frequency of urination. The need to go to the toilet more often can be due to many things – but seeing a doctor can sort out what the underlying problem is.

Diagnostic Tests for Vaginal Cancer

The aim of diagnosis is to find out whether vaginal cancer has developed, or if the symptoms are due to a cancer elsewhere in the genital tract, or some other problem such as an infection. A test similar to a cervical smear can be done to look at the cells that line the vagina. Early, pre-cancerous changes can sometimes be detected – this is known medically as VAIN or carcinoma in situ. It is important to realise that if you are told you have VAIN, you do not have vaginal cancer. These abnormal cells can be removed easily using cryotherapy or laser treatment or can be simply cut away taking a small margin of healthy tissue before they become cancerous. Once that is done, the vagina will be monitored regularly but usually, no further treatment will be needed.

Treatments Available for Vaginal Cancer

The type of treatment you have depends on the stage of the vaginal cancer. This is a measure of how far it has spread and how aggressive it is. At one end of the spectrum, a very aggressive vaginal cancer that has already spread will be treated with radical surgery if it is still contained within the genital tract. This may mean having the ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, cervix, nearby lymph nodes and vagina removed, followed by a vaginal reconstruction, and also possibly radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

If the cancer is more localised, surgery may be required, but it might only need part of the vagina to be removed. Other women are offered radiotherapy to treat small tumours – high intensity radiowaves are focused on the tumour from outside the body, or radioactive material is put into a tampon shaped applicator and introduced into the vagina for a specified time. Just how long will depend on the type of radiotherapy used – it could be minutes or hours.

Side Effects of Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer tends not to have too many effects on the rest of the body but it can make the vagina feel sore, dry and less flexible. You won't be able to have sex during this time but so that you can have a reasonable sex life afterwards, you may be given some soothing creams and a dilator, a device that will stretch the walls of the vagina very gently to keep the space open. Radiotherapy to the vagina will also affect the ovaries and if you have not already passed through the menopause, radiotherapy treatment for vaginal cancer will cause the menopause to start.

Surgery will take more time to recover from the more radical it is. Having complete removal of the entire genital tract is a big operation and in cases of advanced vaginal cancer is followed up by other treatments. It is important to take advantage of all the help you can get at this time – from partner, friends and family – and also to talk to supportive health professionals such as the doctors and nurses managing your cancer and also Macmillan nurses and other counsellors.

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As you get older and do not have sex not been active for years now does this change things as sometimes I feel as if I have not removed a tampon I am 68 and do pelvic floor exercises about 3 times a week
grannymac - 4-Dec-15 @ 3:38 PM
@baldy's wife. You should see your GP
Obviously - 15-Jul-14 @ 12:21 PM
I have nitrates, high white blood cell count and slight blood spoting on my nickers
Baldyswife - 14-Jul-14 @ 6:06 PM
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