What is a Vaginal Neoplasm?
A neoplasm, also known as cancer, is a new and abnormal growth of tissue in the body. Vaginal neoplasms constitute less than three percent of female reproductive cancers. Symptoms can include pressure, painful intercourse, obstruction of the vagina or urethra, or vaginal bleeding. Cancers can be detected in routine screenings, but if any of these symptoms occur, individuals are encouraged to seek medical attention for a proper diagnosis.
Types and causes
Vaginal neoplasms can be classified into four types: squamous cell cancer, adenocarcinoma, melanoma, and sarcoma. Squamous cell cancer starts in the cells that make up the epithelial lining of the vagina. This type of cancer is more common in the upper vagina toward the cervix and makes up about 70% of cases of vaginal cancer. Adenocarcinomas, which make up about 15% of vaginal cancers, begin in gland cells. Melanomas, which are usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body, can develop on the vagina or other internal organs, and make up about 9% of vaginal cancers. Sarcomas are the most rare type of vaginal cancer and form deep in the wall as opposed to the surface of the vagina.
While causes of vaginal cancer are not always clear, there are common risk factors that may raise a woman’s risk of developing a vaginal neoplasm. Women at risk include those over 70 years of age, those who are infected with HPV or HIV, and women who smoke cigarettes and drink alcohol. These cancers are usually asymptomatic and not detected until their later stages, so it is important to have routine annual pelvic exams and Pap smears.
Doctors may detect cancers during routine gynecological visits through pelvic exams and Pap smears. If these tests yield suspicious results, physicians will order follow-up tests to determine if the cells are indeed cancerous. These tests can include vaginoscopies, CT scans, or MRIs of the area. If the woman is shown to have cancer, the doctor will determine which stage of cancer she has according to the following widely used system:
- Stage 1: cancer is limited to the vaginal wall
- Stage 2: cancer has spread to the tissue adjacent to the vagina
- Stage 3: cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and/or pelvis
- Stage 4A: cancer has spread to the lymph nodes and the bladder, rectum, and/or pelvis
- Stage 4B: cancer has spread to other areas of the body
The treatment for vaginal cancers is similar to that for other types of cancer. Most options include surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or a combination thereof. Treatment options can depend on the severity and stage of the cancer. In more extreme cases, the vagina or other organs may need to be removed.
Contact your neighborhood Texas Health Care Obstetrics & Gynecology clinic in DFW for more information on vaginal neoplasms and treatment options.