A vaginal tumor is an abnormal growth of tissue in the vagina, a female reproductive organ.
Primary vaginal cancer is very rare. Most primary vaginal cancers start in skin cells called squamous cells. The remainder is grouped as adenocarcinoma (6%), melanoma (3%), and sarcoma (3%).
The cause of squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is unknown, but up to 30% of patients have a prior history of cervical cancer.
About 75% of patients with squamous cell cancer of the vagina are over 50. Adenocarcinomas of the vagina more commonly affect younger women. The average age of diagnosis for adenocarcinoma of the vagina is 19.
Women whose mothers took diethylstilbestrol (DES) during the first 3 months of pregnancy are at increased risk for developing adenocarcinoma.
Sarcoma botryoides of the vagina is a rare type of cancer that mainly occurs in infancy and early childhood.
- Painless vaginal bleeding and discharge
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Pelvic or vaginal pain
About 5 - 10% of patients have no symptoms and have their cancer detected at the time of routine pelvic examination and Pap smear.
Tests to diagnose vaginal tumors include:
- Pelvic examination
- Pap smear
If a Pap smear is abnormal, but problems with the vagina can not be seen during a pelvic exam, a colposcopy may be done.
Other tests that may be done include:
- CT scan of the abdomen and pelvis
- Chest x-ray
Treatment of vaginal cancer depends on the individual woman, the specific type of vaginal cancer, and how widespread the disease is.
Surgery is sometimes used to remove the cancer, but most patients are treated with radiation. If the tumor is actually cervical cancer that has spread to the vagina, then radiation and chemotherapy are both given.
Sarcoma botryoides may be treated with a combination of chemotherapy, surgery, and radiation.
The stress of illness may be eased by joining a support group whose members share common experiences and problems. These support groups can be found by searching the Internet or contacting the American Cancer Society.
The prognosis of vaginal cancer depends largely on the stage of disease and the type of tumor. The overall 5-year survival rate for squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina is about 42%. The overall 5-year survival rate for patients with a vaginal adenocarcinoma is about 78%.
Vaginal cancer may spread to other areas of the body. Other complications include complications of radiation, surgery, and chemotherapy.
Call for an appointment with your health care provider if you notice bleeding after intercourse or have persistent vaginal bleeding or discharge.
No certain preventative measures are known, but early detection can be maximized by regular yearly pelvic examinations and Pap smears.
Reviewed By: Rita Nanda, M.D., Department of Medicine, Section of Hematology/Oncology, University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, IL. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.