The vagina, also known as the birth canal, is a short tube that connects the vulva to the cervix. Vaginal cancer develops when cells in the vagina grow out of control.
Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) are a significant risk factor for vaginal squamous cell carcinoma, as is having a diagnosis of cervical cancer, which is also caused by HPV. These risk factors necessitate more frequent tests and screenings.
As with the vulva, the vagina is mostly made up of epithelial skin cells, so many of the cancers that affect the vagina are skin-related.
Risk factors for this type of cancer include an HPV infection, HIV, smoking, and having had cervical cancer.
Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more.
Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.
(Tumor – node – metastasis system)
Cancer cells have formed and can be found in the vagina.
Cancer cells have spread to the paravaginal tissues, but not the pelvic wall.
Cancer has spread to the pelvic sidewall, or is causing kidney malfunction.
Cancer has spread beyond the vagina and pelvic wall to other organs in the body.
The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.
Like vulvar cancer, vaginal cancer is primarily treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combination. Each person’s treatment plan is customized based on their cancer type and stage.