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A Quick Guide To Understanding Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer that affects one in 1000 women. Unlike the others that spread across the body, it spreads around the vagina and beyond, hence the name. It is more common among Black Americans and Hispanics. Every year, about 1240 deaths occur from this illness.

Woman in pain. Photo Shutterstock

Vaginal cancer and cervical cancer are linked but are not the same. Vaginal cancer occurs in the vagina, the opening that is linked to the cervix. Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, the small neck-like passage at the end of the uterus.

Although the cause of this remains unknown, it is sometimes triggered by sexually-transmitted human papillomavirus (HPV) which causes vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia.

There are four types of this cancer: the vaginal squamous cell carcinoma affects the thin cells that outline the surface of the vagina; the vaginal adenocarcinoma occurs on the surface of the vagina; the vaginal melanoma occurs in the melanocytes of the vagina; the vaginal sarcoma affects the connective cells in the walls of the vagina.

There is no known cause of this cancer and it is usually not detected at the early stage until there is a diagnosis.

These are some of the signs of vaginal cancer:

  • Lump in the vagina
  • Difficulty when urinating
  • Painful sex
  • Frequent urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse

Cancer ribbon. Photo: Pixabay

There are also some things that can trigger it. They include:

  • Old age
  • Smoking
  • Diethylstilbestrol (DES) – a drug that prevents miscarriage

It is usually detected through a pelvic exam, a pap smear test or the cervix examination. Treatment can be though radiation therapy or chemotherapy with the advice of the doctor.

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