It’s likely you haven’t heard much about vaginal cancer. At first, I didn’t even know that was a thing. Cervical cancer, sure. Vaginal cancer—what?
If you understand your lady parts relatively well, you’ll be able to differentiate between your vagina, your cervix, and your uterus. I’ve spent the last few years getting pretty familiar with my anatomy as a result of my menstrual cup usage. It’s amazing how ignorant I was of it before.
Let’s look at some statistics quickly to put vaginal cancer into perspective with other female cancers.
- Vaginal cancer will see about 4,810 new cases this year with 1,240 deaths .
- Cervical cancer will see 12,820 new cases this year with 4,210 deaths .
- Uterine cancer—also called endometrial cancer—will see 61,380 new cases and 10,920 deaths .
As you can see vaginal cancer has relatively few cases compared to cervical cancer or endometrial cancer, but that doesn’t make it less important of an issue as these are real lives at stake.
Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer
Before diving into the symptoms, let’s make sure you understand the differences between the three main types of cancer, so you are able to make the distinction.
Vaginal cancer is cancer of the vagina—your vagina is the opening that leads to your cervix, which leads to your uterus. Cervical cancer affects the cervix, which is a small, round, and firm “knob” type structure inside your vagina that is the opening to your uterus, or womb.
Endometrial—or uterine cancer—is cancer of your womb, so there would be cancer cells present in the lining of your womb.
Below are some symptoms of vaginal cancer that you should be aware of.
- Unusual bleeding or discharge. This could mean bleeding between periods, after menopause, or anything out of the ordinary.
- Change in urination or defecation. This could mean blood in your urine or stool, frequent urination, or even constipated.
- Pelvic pain. This includes pain during intercourse or while urinating .
Any unusual pain or changes you notice in your body should be discussed with your doctor. This is especially true for any rapid changes, such as the sudden need to urinate more often, rapid weight loss or gain, etc. Don’t wait to seek medical advice from a healthcare provider, make an appointment as soon as possible.
The Causes of Vaginal Cancer
Many health experts agree that the cause of vaginal cancer remains a mystery. That being said, we do know what some of the risk factors are. They include age (with increased age meaning increased risk), Human Papilloma Virus (HPV), Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), and smoking .
Research shows that the majority of women with vaginal cancer have some type of HPV. HPV is a very common infection that has over a hundred different strains and can cause everything from warts (both non-genital and genital) to cancer. Unfortunately, nearly 80 million Americans have some type of HPV with 14 million new cases every year. It’s very common .
What Is the Treatment?
Unfortunately, the current treatment for vaginal cancer isn’t pretty. It could involve internal radiation, external radiation, chemotherapy, and or removing part of your vagina or the entire vagina and then getting reconstructive surgery done .
Sounds intense, right?
Although early detection can help your cancer, unfortunately vaginal cancer often doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s advanced. Fortunately, 84% of women diagnosed at Stage I survive (these are 5-year survival rates). Women diagnosed at Stage II have a 75% survival rate, and women with Stage III or IV have a 57% survival rate .
Prevent Vaginal Cancer
The best treatment is prevention, by lowering your exposure to some of the risk factors:
- Stop smoking. This is well known to increase your risk of multiple cancers beyond simply just lung cancer.
- Know your HPV status. HPV is very easily transmitted. You don’t even have to have sexual intercourse for it to spread. Just know whether or not you have it and of course, always use protection during intercourse.
- Eat well. Your diet is everything to your health. Eating well with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables can help reduce your cancer risk.
- Limit alcohol consumption. Yes, alcohol is a risk factor for cancer just like smoking.
- Supplement as needed. Certain foods are excellent for cancer prevention. Turmeric, garlic, foods high in vitamin C and antioxidants and probiotics can help supplement your already healthy lifestyle.
Some health experts also support the idea of getting vaccinated against HPV to help reduce your risk of certain cancers. I’m not here to endorse those vaccinations and I suggest you do your research before consenting to anything like that. Research is mixed when it comes to these vaccinations.
Be aware of your risk for vaginal cancer and whether or not you have HPV. Being informed about your health and your body is the best thing you can do!
- “Key Statistics for Vaginal Cancer.” Cancer
- “Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers.” CDC
- “Risks and causes of vaginal cancer.” Cancer Research UK
- “Genital HPV Infection – Basic Fact Sheet.” CDC
- “Treatment Options for Vaginal Cancer by Stage and Type.” Cancer
- “Survival Rates for Vaginal Cancer.” Cancer