Vaginal cancer is a form of malignant female genital disease. It is not very common and usually associated with other cancers of the abdomen. There are two forms of occurrence: primitive and secondary. The cancer is considered primitive when the tumor occurs in isolation in the vagina tissue, and secondary when it results from a localized cancer in another organ. Regardless of the form, vaginal cancer tends to be asymptomatic in the early stages. With the progression of the disease, however, painful urination and other disorders can occur. Please see vaginal cancer symptoms.
Anatomy and Role of the Vagina
The woman’s vagina allows sexual intercourse, procreation, and giving birth. This is an important organ located inside the body, in front of the rectum and behind the bladder. Its entrance is at the vulva and labia minora, and stops at the cervix uteri (neck of the uterus), the lower part of the uterus. The vagina is separated from the vulva by the hymen, a small fold of mucosa which is a symbol of virginity. It measures an average of between 8 and 12 cm.
The interior of the vagina is lined with a mucous membrane comprising of many folds. Although rich in blood vessels, arteries and veins, the vagina has few nerve endings and is therefore little sensitive, except near the vulva. Menstruation blood flows through the vaginal wall through a very narrow orifice which also allows the passage of sperm. The walls are elastic to fit a penis and especially childbirth.
Epidemiology of Vaginal Cancer
Vaginal cancer is responsible for approximately 1% of gynecological cancers in the Western world. Average age of diagnosis is around 60-65 years. The treatment can be successful but it important to start at early stage. Please see vaginal cancer treatment…
The disease is a rare medical condition that mainly concerns older women, although there are cases among very young girls and even very young children (3 years). This is especially of children whose mother received, during the pregnancy, hormone therapy, more specifically estrogen therapy resulting in the occurrence of adenosis (abnormal formation or enlargement of glandular tissue) or adenocarcinoma (a form of malignant tumor which usually forms in mucus-secreting glands throughout the body).
The majority of vaginal cancers are carcinomas, which medical experts call squamous cell cancer of the vagina. Microscopic examination of samples taken at the cancerous lesions reveals a variety of squamous cells, thin and flat cells that look like fish scales.
Other vaginal cancers include:
- Primary and secondary adenocarcinomas
- Secondary epithelial squamous cell carcinoma, mostly in older women
- Clear-cell adenocarcinoma (CCA), affecting mainly young women
- Embryonal rhabdomyosarcoma (ERMS), diagnosed mostly at the age of three years.