Scripps teams provide women’s health care services with compassion and clinical excellence that has defined Scripps since it was founded as San Diego’s health care provider more than 90 years ago.
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Annual physical exams with your physician are a proactive way to stay alert to possible signs of vaginal cancer, which can include symptoms such as unexplained bleeding, pain during intercourse, pain while urinating or a noticeable lump in the vagina.
Vaginal cancer is a rare type of female reproductive cancer. An estimated 1 of every 1,100 women will develop vaginal cancer in her lifetime.
There are several types of vaginal cancer. About 70 percent of vaginal cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, which often develop slowly and are preceded by a pre-cancerous cell condition known as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasa (VAIN).
The Pap test (also known as a Pap smear) is a screening for abnormal vaginal cells and helps doctors learn if you’re at risk for vaginal cancer. It can be combined with a human papillomavirus (HPV) test. For women 30 and older, vaginal cancer screening with the HPV test and a Pap test is more likely to find abnormal vaginal cell changes than either test performed alone, according to the National Cancer Institute. It is important to be tested regularly. Diagnosing vaginal cancer may include certain tests:
- Pelvic exam may include a physical check of the vulva, uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder and rectum.
- Imaging tests can include computed tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan, X-ray or positron emission tomography (PET/CT) scan.
- Colposcopy is a procedure in which a doctor examines the surface of the vaginal wall through a special instrument with magnification called a colposcope that remains outside the body.
- Vaginal biopsy involves removal of a tissue sample that is examined and tested by a pathologist.
Treatment of pre-cancerous vaginal intraepithelial neoplasa (VAIN) or vaginal cancer may include one or more of the following: surgery, chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
- Laser surgery can be used for removal of VAIN abnormal cells in the lining of the vagina.
- Vaginectomy is the removal of the vagina. Reconstructive surgery by a plastic surgeon may follow the procedure.
- Hysterectomy involves the removal of the uterus (and possibly the cervix) and can be performed through an abdominal incision, or minimally invasive procedures such as laparoscopic surgery or robotic-assisted surgery.
- Pelvic exenteration is the most extensive approach and involves removal of the uterus, cervix, bladder, vagina, rectum and possibly part of the colon, depending on extent and spread of cancer.
- Lymph node dissection is the removal of lymph nodes and a margin of healthy tissue adjacent to the cancer.
Chemotherapy for vaginal cancer is reserved for cases when the disease has spread to other parts of the body. In some cases, however, chemotherapy has been shown to shrink vaginal cancer tumors, and this has been a treatment approach before surgeries for some patients.
Chemotherapy services are available at four Scripps hospitals, three Scripps Clinic locations, the Scripps Mercy Clinic, and the offices of Scripps physicians.
External beam radiation therapy may be provided alone or in combination with a form of radiation therapy called brachytherapy where tiny radioactive sources are placed directly into the body through catheters or small plastic tubes.
Scripps offers some of the most advanced radiation therapy options in convenient San Diego locations.
Complementary therapies, including therapeutic nutrition and supplementation, acupuncture, yoga and massage therapy, can help manage cancer symptoms.