Primary vaginal cancer is very rare, with approximately 70 women diagnosed in Australia every year. It is more common to develop secondary cancers in the vagina as a result of cancer spreading from another part of the body, which includes the cervix, uterus, vulva and even bladder or bowel.
There are two main types of vaginal cancers: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Squamous cell carcinomas usually affect women between the ages of 50 to 70 years while adenocarcinoma occurs more frequently in women under 25 years of age. Factors that increase the risk of developing vaginal cancer include HPV infection and smoking.
Patients may experience bloody offensive discharge, bleeding and pain after intercourse, vaginal lump and pelvic pain. On occasion, a routine Pap smear may detect a vaginal cancer.
A Vaginoscopy (Colposcopy of the Vagina) with biopsy may be useful to confirm the diagnosis and guide further management.
With early detection and diagnosis of vaginal cancer, surgical excision is sometimes possible. A combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy are required in the treatment of most vaginal cancers. Patients will often need an examination under anaesthesia to enable a full assessment to be carried out in order to determine the best treatment modality.
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