Breasts, lungs and the pancreas are organs that are commonly associated with cancer, but did you know that you can also get vaginal cancer? Even though it is rare, it’s essential to know about the causes, symptoms and prevention methods. Let’s discuss.
Different types of vaginal cancer
Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma
This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. It develops from the epithelial (thin tissue) found on the surface of your vagina. Squamous cell carcinomas progress slowly, and they can develop from a precancerous condition called vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN). The condition presents with atypical cells forming on the top surface of the vaginal lining.
Adenocarcinoma accounts for approximately 15% of vaginal cancers. They begin to develop in the gland cells of your vagina. Women over 70 years of age are more prone to these types of cancers.
Melanoma is a type of cancer that develops from the skin pigment-producing cells. It’s generally found in areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun such as arms, legs, neck and back. However, it’s possible for it to occur on skin that has no sun exposure, but this is rare.
The Cancer Treatment Centres of America discuss the different stages of vaginal cancer.
Vaginal cancer causes
Unfortunately, the causes of vaginal cancer aren’t clear. However, it most likely follows the same development stages as other cancers.
Essentially, healthy cells in your body mutate into abnormal cells. The cells multiply and eventually form a mass (tumour). The cancer cells can enter nearby tissue if cells break off from the tumour and travel to other parts of the body.
Symptoms of vaginal cancer
According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s possible that you may not experience any symptoms in the early stage of vaginal cancer. However, they become more apparent as cancer progresses.
- Unusual vaginal bleeding, for example, after intercourse or after menopause
- Watery vaginal discharge
- A lump or mass in your vagina
- Painful urination
- Frequent urination
- Pelvic pain
Ensure you have regular pap smears and pelvic exams
Get the HPV vaccination
The human papillomavirus is an STI that is transferred by skin-to-skin contact. Women with HPV are more susceptible to cervical cancer. The best defence against HPV is the vaccine. The problem is that it’s not effective if you already have HPV.
If you smoke, quit now. Smoking increases the risks of vaginal cancers (specifically cervical cancer).
How Marie Stopes can help you
Marie Stopes offers women’s wellness check-ups which include a pap smear and cervical screening. The procedure can be performed at any Marie Stopes South Africa’s clinics by medical professionals in a safe, clean environment. Find your nearest Marie Stopes Clinic to get yourself tested.