Symptoms Of Vaginal Cancer
Recognizing The Early Signs

Vaginal Cancer Signs Pictures of vaginal cancers

Knowing The Signs

Symptoms Of Vaginal Cancer


What Are The Signs Of Vaginal Cancer?
Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding
Vaginal Discharges
Vulva Itching
Mass Or Growth
Signs Of Advanced Vaginal Cancer

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Guide To Vagina Cancer

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

If a woman still has periods, abnormal bleeding is considered bleeding or spotting between menstrual cycles. It may be particularly noted after sexual intercourse. More commonly abnormal bleeding is the result of anatomical abnormalities such as vaginal dryness, uterine fibroids, adenomyosis, endometriosis, PID (pelvic inflammatory disease) or ovarian cysts. In much rarer instances it is a sign of cancer – potentially of the vagina or cancer of the vulva, but more commonly endometrial (uterine) or cervix cancer. Women who bleed after sexual intercourse are usually evaluated first for colon polyps, cervicitis, vaginal atrophy and cervical cancer. Systemic illness is another cause of abnormal vaginal bleeding. Stress, hypothyroidism, anorexia nervosa, polycystic ovary syndrome and kidney failure can cause irregular periods or stop menstruation bleeds altogether. Excessive blood flow (menorrhagia) can be caused by conditions like lupus or hypothyroidism. Using contraceptives can also cause bleeding between periods. Oral contraceptives which cause breakthrough bleeding after 3 months should be replaced by a higher dose of either estrogen or progesterone.

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:

Obesity: Women who are obese produce more estrogen which in turn can promote the development of endometrial hyperplasia. This condition can cause bleeding but is also considered a precursor to endometrial cancer.

Medications: Certain medications, especially estrogen replacement therapy (ERT) can cause some bleeding for up to 6 months after starting the treatment. If it continues after this, do follow up with your doctor. Women who are taking daily doses of estrogen and then add progestin for 10 to 12 days a month can experience light bleeding when the progestin is withdrawn. This is quite normal.

Vaginal Discharges

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.

See also: Symptoms of yeast infections.

Vulva Itching

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.

Mass Or Growth

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).

Signs Of Advanced Vaginal Cancer

As a tumor grows it starts to press on nearby organs and tissues causing other complications. These include:

Pelvic Pain

This has been described as a dull ache or pressure felt in the abdomen below the belly button. It may be intermittent or persistent. There may be periodic bouts of sharp pain. The more severe the pain, the more advanced the disease because cancer cells have invaded the nerves. It may also be a sign of recurrent vaginal cancer. Lymph glands in the groin may start to swell (a condition known as inguinal lymphadenopathy) which can put pressure on the great aortic artery causing back pain.

Bowel Movement Changes

A growing tumor can place pressure on the rectum causing bowel disorders such as chronic constipation. The stools may be black and tarry and the woman feels as those she has not been completely emptied after a movement. She may also need to strain for a bowel movement, a condition called tenesmus.

Pressure may also be placed on the bladder causing changes in urination frequency, particularly at nighttime. There may also be pain on urination or blood in the urine. Although blood in the urine may not be visible to the naked eye it can be noticed as streaks on the toilet tissue after wiping the vulva. That said, there are much more common causes for urination changes including urinary tract infections and an increase in fluid or caffeine intake.

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.

Read also:
Vaginal Cancer Prevention - How to prevent and protect.
Vaginal Cancer Treatment - Options for treating the disease.
Causes of Vaginal Cancer - STDs and lifestyle factors.

  Related Articles on Vaginal Cancer

For more guides, see the following:

Cancer Guide

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