Munson Health
 
Vaginal Cancer

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by Puzanov I

(Cancer of the Vagina)

 

Risk Factors

These risk factors increase your chance of developing vaginal cancer. Tell your doctor if you have any of these risk factors:
 

Diagnosis

Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history and perform a physical exam, including a pelvic exam. You may be referred to a doctor who specializes in women’s health (a gynecologist).
Tests may include:
  • Pap test—tissue from the inside of the cervix and upper vagina is scraped and tested
  • Colposcopy—a lighted, magnifying instrument is used to examine the vagina and cervix in great detail
  • Biopsy—removal of a sample of vaginal tissue for testing
If cancer is found, additional tests are usually done to determine whether or not it has spread to other parts of the pelvis or elsewhere in the body. These tests may include:
  • CT scan—a type of x-ray that uses a computer to make pictures of structures inside the body
  • MRI scan—a test that uses magnetic waves to make pictures of structures inside the body
 

Treatment

Once vaginal cancer is found, staging tests are done to find out if the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body. Treatments for vaginal cancer depend on the stage of the cancer.
Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatment options include:

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is the use of high-dose radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation is usually directed at the tumor from a source outside the body. In some cases, radioactive material may be temporarily placed near the tumor to expose the cancerous cells to a constant level of radiation. This is called an implant and generally requires a short hospital stay. Other radiation treatments are outpatient.

Surgery

This involves the surgical removal of a cancerous tumor and nearby tissues, and possibly lymph nodes. Depending on how far the cancer has spread outside the vagina, the doctor may remove the vagina, cervix, uterus, and sometimes the bladder, rectum, and parts of the colon.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. This treatment may be given as a topical cream, pill, or intravenous injection. Except for topical creams, in which the drug is applied directly on the walls of the vagina, chemotherapy drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
 

RESOURCES

American Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.org

Gynecologic Cancer Foundation
http://www.thegcf.org

 

CANADIAN RESOURCES

Canadian Cancer Society
http://www.cancer.ca

Canadian Women's Health Network
http://www.cwhn.ca

 

References


Andrassy, RJ, Wiener, ES, et al. Progress in the surgical management of vaginal rhabdomyosarcoma: a 25-year review from the Intergroup Rhabdomyosarcoma Study Group. J Pediatr Surg. 1999; 34:731.


DeMatos, P, Tyler, D, et al. Mucosal melanoma of the female genitalia: a clinicopathologic study of forty-three cases at Duke University Medical Center. Surgery. 1998; 124:38.


Frank SJ, Jhingran A, et al. Definitive radiation therapy for squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2005;62:138-147.


Human papillomavirus vaccine. EBSCO Health Library website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/healthLibrary. Updated December 4, 2009. Accessed December 15, 2009.


Pandey M; Mathew A; Abraham EK; Ahamed IM; Nair KM. Primary malignant melanoma of the mucous membranes. Eur J Surg Oncol. 1998 Aug;24(4):303-307.


Vaginal cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/CRI/CRI%5F2%5F3x.asp?dt=55. Accessed July 12, 2005.


Vaginal cancer. Gynecological Oncology Health Guide website. Available at: http://www/umm.edu/gyn/vaginal.htm. Accessed July 12, 2005.


Vaginal cancer (PDQ) treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/vagina/patient. Accessed July 12, 2005.


What is vaginal cancer? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/cancer/vaginalcancer/detailedguide/vaginal-cancer-what-is-vaginal-cancer. Updated August 2010. Accessed October 13, 2010.

 

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