Symptoms Of Vaginal Cancer
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|What Are The Signs Of Vaginal Cancer?
The earlier cancer of the vagina is discovered, the sooner it can be treated and the better the survival rate (see vaginal cancer survival rates). It is however rare for women to display symptoms in the early stages of vaginal cancer. VAIN (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia), the earliest stage considered by many medical experts as the precancerous stage, is usually only detected through a routine Pap test screening for cervical cancer. A tumor must grow to 1 billion cells or about 13mm wide before it causes symptoms. Fortunately, early stages of vaginal cancer are highly treatable with excellent chances of cure. As the cancer develops, about 80 percent of woman usually starts to notice one or more signs. At first this may be a foul smelling vaginal discharge or itching (pruritus). As the disease is so rare, it is often misdiagnosed at this stage for common disorders such as yeast infections or vaginitis and is treated with antibiotics. As the tumor grows it starts to press on nearby pelvic organs such as the bladder and rectum, causing a dull ache. Severe pain is usually a sign of an advanced stage. There may also be vaginal bleeding.
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
Vaginal bleeding in postmenopause women is generally taken more seriously by doctors. Most clinicians will assume it is cancer unless diagnosed otherwise. In about 30 percent of cases it is cancer, with 98 percent being cervical or endometrial cancer. Only 2 percent start in the vagina (primary vaginal cancer). In most cases although cancer may be found in the vagina, it is likely to have migrated down from the cervix. This then is not vaginal but cervical cancer. If cancer is ruled out, other possible causes include:
About 30 percent of women who receive a vaginal cancer diagnosis have abnormal vaginal discharges. A small amount of discharge which is clear or milky white with no odor is normal. However it becomes abnormal when the amount or appearance of the discharge changes. Vaginal cancer can produce an increase in the amount of discharge, it may also be watery, pinkish and blood tinged. It can also be foul smelling. The vast majority of abnormal discharges are however caused by more benign disorders such as vaginitis or Candida infections such as thrush. A doctor can diagnose the cause by performing a pelvic examination and sending a sample of the discharge to labs for testing.
Also known as vulva pruritus, persistent itching of the vulva area that will not go away is another sign of cancer. In younger women however itching is more likely to be caused by stress, vaginitis, yeast infections, STDs and reactions to douching. Falling levels of estrogen in women after menopause may cause dryness of the vulva tissues and itching. Pruritus is present in about 30 percent of patients with vaginal cancer.
About 10 percent of women with vaginal cancer will have with a lump or growth in the vagina that doctors can feel during a pelvic examination. There can be many causes of lumps such as benign vaginal cysts. A biopsy will be necessary to determine if a tumor is benign (non cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
As a tumor grows it starts to press on nearby organs and tissues causing other complications. These include:
Bowel Movement Changes
What If I Had A Hysterectomy?
Women who have had their womb removed can still develop vaginal cancer, although it is very uncommon. As the cervix has also been removed, those women will no longer be invited by their doctor for cervical cancer screenings (Pap test). However, if you are worried for any reason about developing cancer of the vagina, ask your physician to continue with screenings, but to take cell samples from the upper vaginal area instead. This is known as a vault smear. Women who have had a hysterectomy because of CIN, a precancerous precursor to cervical cancer, normally have follow-up vault smears for up to 2 years.
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