How Much Do You Know About Vaginal Cancer?
Vaginal cancer is a type of cancer that starts in cells of the vagina. As the name suggests, it occurs only inside the female reproductive system. If left untreated, it may spread outside the vagina. Most often, it affects women over 50 years old. However, younger women are not immune either. In fact, it is estimated that about 1 out of 100 women between 20-29 years old have been diagnosed with this disease.
There are several types of cancer including squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), adenocarcinoma, melanomas, sarcomas, lymphomas, and others.
- Squamous Cell Carcinoma (SCC): This kind of vaginal cancer starts out as abnormal cells called squamous epithelial cells. These cells are flat and thin and line the inside of the vagina. Squamous cell carcinoma begins when these cells become damaged and start to multiply uncontrollably. SCC is the most common type of vaginal cancer.
- Adenocarcinoma: This type of vaginal cancer starts out with normal cells called glandular cells. Adenocarcinoma occurs when these cells become damaged. Adenocarcinomas begin as small lumps of cells called polyps. Polyps are benign tumors that develop in the cervix or uterus. Adenocarcinomatous lesions occur in the cervix and endometrium.
- Melanomas: These cancers begin with skin cells called melanocytes. Melanocytes produce a pigment called melanin. When melanocytes get damaged they can turn malignant. Melanomas begin as small bumps on the skin called moles. Moles do not hurt and are harmless. If moles change color or shape, they should be checked by a doctor.
- Sarcomas: This kind of vaginal cancer starts out with muscle cells called smooth muscles. Sarcomas begin when these muscle cells are gets damage. Sarcomas begin as soft lumps of tissue called fibromas. Fibromas are non-cancerous tumors that develop in connective tissue.
- Lymphomas: This kind of vaginal cancer starts out with immune system cells called B cells. Lymphomas begin when these cells become damaged or mutated. Lymphomas begin as swollen glands called nodes. Nodes are small swellings of tissue that form at various places throughout the body.
- Other Types of Vaginal Cancers: There are many other kinds of vaginal cancers. Most of them have different symptoms than the ones listed above. Symptoms of vaginal cancer depend on where the cancer is located and how advanced it is.
Vaginal Cancer: How Common Is It?
You cannot diagnose Vaginal cancer easily in women. However, it does occur. There are many risk factors with vaginal cancer including age, race, HPV infection, smoking, and certain types of birth control pills. Vaginal cancer is rare in young women under 30 years old, however, it can still develop at any time. If you have been experiencing abnormal bleeding, pain, itching, burning, discharge, or swelling in your vagina, then you should contact your doctor immediately. You may need further testing if these symptoms do not go away after several weeks.
Cancer Of The Vaginal Area: Who Is At Risk?
- Women who have had cancer before: Women who have been diagnosed with cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, vulvar cancer, or penile cancer may be at risk for developing vaginal cancer later in life. These women should talk to their doctor about getting screened regularly for vaginal cancer.
- Women who smoke cigarettes: Smoking tobacco increases the risk of developing vaginal cancer. If you’re a smoker, quit today!
- Women who use oral contraceptives: Taking birth control pills may increase your risk of developing vaginal cancer if you don’t take them correctly. Talk to your doctor about using different forms of contraception instead.
- Women who have sex with men: If you have sex with men, you may be at greater risk for developing vaginal cancer than women who have only sex with women. Talk to your doctor for advice about how to protect yourself from sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
- Women who have had HPV: HPV causes genital warts and some types of cancers. You can get rid of these warts naturally without damaging your immune system. Find out what type of HPV you have and whether you need treatment.
- Women who have had radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy may cause damage to nearby normal cells.
The Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
- Vaginal bleeding between menstrual cycles (or after intercourse)
- Painful sex
- A lump or thickening inside your vagina
- An unusual odor coming out of your vagina
- Changes in how your urine looks
- Swelling or irritation around your genitals
- Bleeding between your legs
- Pain in your pelvis or lower abdomen
- Changes in bowel movements
How To Prevent Vaginal Cancer?
The best way to prevent vaginal cancer is to get regular exams. Your gynecologist will check you over for abnormal moles, lumps, etc., and look at your cervix. There are ways to reduce the risk of contracting vaginal cancer, however. Here are some things you can do to help keep yourself safe from vaginal cancer:
- Get tested regularly: The best way to prevent getting vaginal cancer is to get regular. These tests look at cells inside the cervix and vagina and check for any abnormalities. If anything looks abnormal, then they’ll send out a sample to a lab to test. You should have these done once a year, starting around age 21.
- Use condoms correctly: Condoms are great tools to protect against STDs and pregnancy, but if not used properly, they could actually increase your risk of contracting HPV. Make sure to use them consistently and correctly!
- Don’t smoke cigarettes: Smoking cigarettes increases your chances of developing cervical cancer. Smoking causes changes in the lining of the cervix, making it easier for HPV to enter the body.
- Eat well: A diet rich in fruits and vegetables helps reduce your risk of developing vaginal cancer. Foods high in fiber, folate, vitamin C, and antioxidants may lower your risk of HPV infection.
- Drink alcohol moderately: Alcohol consumption increases the risks of several types of cancers including breast, colon, liver, mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, and rectal cancers. Drinking alcohol also decreases the effectiveness of oral contraceptives, increasing your chance of becoming pregnant.
- Avoid douching: Douching doesn’t remove bacteria or viruses, but it does wash away protective layers of skin that help fight off infections. Douching can cause irritation and damage to the delicate mucous membranes of the vagina, leading to yeast infections.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise boosts endorphins (hormones produced naturally in the brain) and lowers cortisol levels (a hormone released during times of stress). Both of these factors improve mood and decrease anxiety, helping you feel happier and calmer. Regular exercise also keeps your immune system strong and reduces your risk of many different kinds of cancer.
The Final Takeaway,
Get the Facts on VC Today
- VC is not caused by HPV (human papillomavirus). There is no evidence that HPV causes vaginal cancer. In fact, studies show that women who have been infected with HPV do not develop cervical cancer later in life.
- Only about half of those diagnosed with vulvar and vaginal cancers are sexually active at the time they are first diagnosed. Most cases occur in older women who were previously sexually inactive.
- Genital warts are caused by human papillomaviruses (HPVs) and are spread by direct skin-to-skin contact between sexual partners. If someone has genital warts, chances are good that he/she has had sex with someone else who already has them.