Cancer » Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer is one of the uncommon types of cancers occurring in women. Vagina is an organ present only in females and connects the womb to outer sex organs. Hence, only women are prone to the cancer of the vagina. The cancer may develop in the vagina at any age but is more common in women aged over 45 years. The disease may also develop in infants but the chances are rare. Early diagnosis of the disease helps in treating the cancerous tumors more effectively and reduces the chances of recurrence of the disease.
Nature of vaginal cancer
Cancer of the vagina can be primary or secondary in nature. Primary cancer is the one in which the vaginal cells develop originally in the vagina and spread to other areas with the increase in the intensity of malignant cells. Secondary cancer is the one in which the cancerous cells develop in the areas other than vagina and reach the vagina by the process of metastasis.
Adenocarcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma are the two main types of cancer in the vagina. Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common type of the cancer and the cancer develops in the squamous cells present on the lining of the vagina. Adenocarcinoma primarily develops in the glandular or secretary cells and is more likely to infect lymph nodes and lungs. This type of cancer is more common in young females while the squamous cell carcinoma primarily targets the aged women.
Squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma are the two important types of the primary vaginal cancer. Secondary type of cancer in the vagina is more common as compared to the primary one. The malignant cells reach the vagina after originating mostly in the bowels, bladder, cervix or endometrium. Thorough diagnosis and timely treatment is very important to curb the spread and intensity of the malignant tumors and prevent them from redeveloping at a later stage.
The malignant cells tend to develop cancerous infection by primarily targeting the live cells and healthy tissues. In adenocarcinoma, the cancerous cells target the normal cells present in the glandular lining. Squamous cells become the main target of the malignant cells in squamous cell carcinoma. Cancerous cells enter the body by damaging and killing healthy cells and tissues and replacing them by the malignant cells. This forces the other normal cells to behave abnormally. Damage to tissues severely impacts the supply of blood, oxygen and other essential resources to the cells present all over the body. Thus, lack of necessary resources makes the normal cells impatient and they start dividing and growing abnormally and uncontrollably.
The abnormal division of cells leads to an enormous increase in the number of unnecessary cells in the infected area. Also, the abnormality of cells prevents the normal old cells from dying naturally and hampers the overall cell development process. These excess cells group up to form a kind of lump that is generally known as a tumor. The tumors can be malignant or cancerous and benign.
Benign tumors are generally less harmful as compared to the cancerous ones. They develop slowly and exhibit a rare tendency to metastasize. They are easy to eliminate by a way of surgery and usually do not redevelop. These tumors are also harmless to the healthy tissues and cells. Behavior of cancerous or malignant tumors is exactly opposite to that of the benign tumors. Malignant tumors grow fast and metastasize rapidly. Their main aim is to kill and replace healthy cells and tissues by the infected ones and increase the dominance of tumor cells in the body. The malignant tumors metastasize mainly through the lymph and bloodstream.
Both these types of tumors need to be treated equally well and efforts should be made to minimize their chance of recurrence. Benign tumors may also turn cancerous if taken lightly or ignored for a long period.
How to prevent vaginal cancer?
Age is the most important factor in occurrence of the disease. Women who have been through menopause or are above 45 years of age need to undergo a regular medical checkup. This will help in early diagnosis of the disease and minimize the metastasis of the infected cells. Exposure to diethylstilbestrol can increase the risk of cancerous development in the person's body. Women suffering from or treated for cervical cancer are also at a considerably higher risk. Some of the important tests like biopsy, ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan are very useful to examine the body internally.
Pap test (also known as papanicolaou or Pap smear test) is an important technique to examine the vagina thoroughly and diagnose for any abnormalities. Computed tomography (CT) scan and endoscopy and X-rays are also other important examination methods. Early detection of abnormal cells is helpful in treating them safely without any major side effects to the body.
Sexually transmitted diseases, AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome) and HPV (human papillomavirus) also play a destructive role in allowing the cancerous cells to grow freely and rapidly. Having multiple sex-partners and unsafe sex practices are the most common causes of such infections. These infections damage the internal cells considerably and make your body less resistant to the abnormal behavior of cells. A strong immune system is also necessary to fight the cancerous development of cells. Balanced diet with regular inclusion of salads and vegetables can be very advantageous. Also, frequent consumption of fresh fruits can keep you away from vitamin deficiency.
Unusual bleeding and discharge in the vagina are the most common and basic symptoms of the vaginal cancer. Any infection or pain in the vagina, that doesn't get healed by normal medication, must be thoroughly diagnosed in consultation with a physician.
Vaginal cancer can be fatal if not treated in time as it shows a high tendency to metastasize. Surgery is the most common form of treatment recommended for the women with cancer in its initial stages. Radiation and chemical therapy is also another kind of treatment for the cancer.