What is Vaginal Cancer

Florida Hospital Cancer Institute offers the latest and most effective treatment for vaginal cancer in Orlando for residents of Central Florida and the surrounding regions. Vaginal cancer is a relatively rare disorder as well, comprising about 2% to 3% of all gynecologic cancers. Approximately 2,400 women are diagnosed each year with vaginal cancer each year in the United States. It usually occurs in the cells that line the vagina’s surface, which is sometimes referred to as the birth canal. To learn more about treatment for vaginal cancer in Orlando, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

Vaginal cancer is not to be confused with cancer that spreads to the vagina, such as uterine or cervical cancer. Primary vaginal cancer doesn’t spread from other parts of the reproductive system but begins in the vagina itself. If the cancer is caught earlier enough there is a good chance the cancer can be controlled and even cured. If the cancer spreads beyond the vagina, it is more difficult to treat. While vaginal cancers are relatively rare when compared to other cancers, the Gynecologic Oncology Center is well equipped with the expertise and state-of-the-art treatments needed to fight these diseases at all stages of their development.

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

The earlier vaginal cancer is discovered and treated, the better the survival rate. If you have any of these symptoms it’s important that you discuss them with one of our experts at the Gynecologic Oncology Center. While these symptoms could be indications of a number of diseases, our knowledgeable team of physicians and specialists will be able to determine their cause through diagnostic exams and tests such as a Pap smear, ultrasound or CT Scan. Women with vaginal cancer may have the following symptoms.

Signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer:

  • Constipation
  • Vaginal bleeding or discharge that isn’t related to your period
  • Painful urination or difficulty urinating
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • A mass that can be felt
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Risk Factors of Vaginal Cancer

The root causes of vaginal cancer are not fully understood. What is understood are the risk factors that can increase your chances of getting the disease. These include:

  • Being 60 years of age or older
  • Being exposed to DES while in your mother’s womb 
  • Having a human papilloma virus infection
  • Having a history of abnormal cells in the cervix or having cervical cancer

Vaginal Cancer Statistics

  • Most vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which begin in the thin flat cells that line the vagina. Another form of vaginal cancer is known as adencarcinoma, which begins in the glandular cells of the vagina.
  • Each year there are approximately 2,200 new cases of vaginal cancer and more than 750 women die each year from the disease. It accounts for only 2% to 3% of cancers of the female reproductive system.
  • When vaginal cancer is caught early the survival rate can be as high as 96%. In the later stages, the survival rate of women with squamous cell carcinomas and adenocarcinoma is a little less than 40%. Unfortunately the survival rate of the melanoma forms if vaginal cancer is less than 20%.
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Stages of Vaginal Cancer

Staging is used by the Gynecologic Oncology Center to determine the extent of vaginal cancer. Following are the stages of vaginal cancer:

Stage 0 Vaginal Cancer - Abnormal cells are found in the tissue lining inside the vagina. These cells may become cancerous, but aren’t yet.

Stage 1 Vaginal Cancer - Cancer has formed and is found in the vagina only.

Stage 2 Vaginal Cancer - Cancer has spread from the vagina to the tissue surrounding the vagina.

Stage 3 Vaginal Cancer - Cancer has spread from the vagina to the lymph nodes in the pelvis or groin, to the pelvis or both.

Stage 4 Vaginal Cancer

Stage 4A: Cancer may spread to the lymph nodes in the pelvis or groin and has spread to the lining of the bladder or rectum and/or beyond the pelvis.

Stage 4B: Cancer has spread to parts of the body such as the lungs. It may have also spread to the lymph nodes.

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In addition to research into oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes and HPV vaccines, researchers are looking at the following methodologies for preventing and treating vaginal cancer.

Radiation therapy - Studies are being conducted to find out the best way to combine external beam therapy and brachytherapy to treat the cancer while minimizing damage to normal tissue.

Reconstructive surgery - Surgeons are using new approaches to repairing the vagina after radical surgery.

Chemotherapy - Some researchers have found that vaginal cancer doesn’t respond to certain types of chemotherapy. More clinical trials will be needed to find out if combining chemotherapy with radiation therapy is more effective than radiation therapy alone.

Currently, the National Cancer Institute lists nearly 40 trials underway for vaginal cancer and the Gynecologic Oncology Center is an active participant in some of these trials, offering patients the broadest range of clinical trial options in the nation.

For a complete list, click here.

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Treatment for Vaginal Cancer

Depending on the type of vaginal cancer and its stage, your physician may recommend surgery and radiation. 

Surgery for Vaginal Cancer

Types of surgery that may be used in women with vaginal cancer include:

Removing small tumors or lesions. If the cancer is only affecting the surface of the vagina, it may be cut away along with a small amount of healthy tissue to make sure that all the cancer cells are removed. 

Removal of the vagina (called a vaginectomy). In many cases, part or all of the vagina may be removed in order to get rid of the cancer. Depending on the size and stage, your physician may recommend removing your uterus, ovaries and nearby lymph nodes at the same time. 

Removal of most of the pelvic organs (called a pelvic exenteration). If the cancer has spread throughout the pelvic area or if vaginal cancer has recurred, your physician may recommend removing many of the organs in the pelvic region. These include the bladder, ovaries, uterus, vagina, rectum and lower portion of the colon. If this type of surgery is required, openings will be created in the abdomen to allow urine and waste to exit the body (collecting in special bags).   

Radiation therapy for Vaginal Cancer

Your physician may recommend radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in the vagina. This may be delievered in two ways:

External radiation - External beam radiation therapy is focused on the entire abdomen or just at the pelvic region. During this procedure, you will be laying on a table while a large radiation machine is positioned over and around you. The majority of women with vaginal cancer receive external beam radiation.

Internal radiation - Internal beam radiation therapy may be recommended for women with very early-stage vaginal cancer, or for women who have had extensive external radiation. During this procedure, special materials are placed in the vagina or surrounding tissue.

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Request an Appointment

To learn more about treatment for vaginal cancer in Orlando, or to schedule an appointment, call (407) 303-1700 or click here to fill out an online assistance form.

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