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Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal Cancer - Treatment And It's Symptoms

Alternative names :- Vaginal tumors; Cancer - vagina; Tumor - vaginal

Vaginal cancer accounts for approximately 2% of all gynecologic cancers. It usually appears as squamous cell carcinoma but occasionally as melanoma, sarcoma, or adenocarcinoma. Primary tumors of the vagina, however, are rare because most vaginal tumors spread from the cervix or the endometrium. This cancer generally occurs in women in their early to mid50s, particularly when the tumor is squamous cell carcinoma. Some of the rarer types (such as clear cell adenocarcinoma) occur in younger women in their late teens to early 20s and are related to mothers who took diethylstilbestrol during pregnancy. Another type of vaginal cancer, rhabdomyosarcoma, appears in children.

What causes Vaginal Cancer?

The exact cause of vaginal cancer remains unknown, but it's thought to be triggered by genital viruses or chronic irritation. Other risk factors include hysterectomy and previous radiation therapy for cancer of the cervix or the rectum.

Vaginal cancer varies in severity according to its location and effect on lymphatic drainage. (The vagina is a thin-walled structure with rich lymphatic drainage.) Similar to cervical cancer, vaginal cancer may progress from an intraepithelial tumor to an invasive cancer. However, it spreads more slowly than cervical cancer.

A lesion in the upper third of the vagina (the most common site) usually metastasizes to the groin nodes; a lesion in the lower third (the second most common site) usually metastasizes to the hypogastric and iliacnodes; but a lesion in the middle third metastasizes erratically. A posterior lesion displaces and distends the vaginal posterior wall before spreading to deep layers. By contrast, an anterior lesion spreads more rapidly into other structures and deep layers because, unlike the posterior wall, the anterior vaginal wall isn't flexible.

Other types of vaginal cancer include:

  • malignant melanoma
  • leiomyosarcoma
  • rhabdomyosarcoma

Signs and symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

The most common symptoms of vaginal cancer are abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge. The patient may also experience bleeding and pelvic or vaginal pain after sexual intercourse. Also, she may have a small or large mass in any part of the vagina. As the cancer progresses, it commonly spreads to the bladder (producing frequent voiding and bladder pain), the rectum (bleeding), vulva (lesion), pubic bone (pain), or other surrounding tissues. Painful urination, constipation, and continuous pain in the pelvis may occur with advanced vaginal cancer.

Vaginal cancer is rare and accounts for only about 3% of cancers of the female reproductive system. The American Cancer Society estimates that in the year 2005, about 2,140 new cases of vaginal cancer will be diagnosed in the United States and 810 women will die of this cancer.
Diagnosis information

The diagnosis of vaginal cancer is based on the presence of abnormal cells on a vaginal Papanicolaou smear. Careful examination and a biopsy rule out the cervix and vulva as primary sites of the lesion. In many cases, however, the cervix contains the primary lesion that has metastasized to the vagina. Then any visible lesion is biopsied and evaluated histologically. Visualization of the entire vagina is sometimes difficult because the speculum blades may hide a lesion or the patient may be uncooperative because of discomfort. When lesions aren't visible, colposcopy is used to identify abnormalities. Painting the suspected vaginal area with Lugol's solution also helps identify malignant areas by staining glycogen-containing normal tissue, while leaving abnormal tissue unstained.

Treatment of Vaginal Cancer

In early stages, treatment aims to preserve the abnormal parts of the vagina. Topical chemotherapy with S-fluorouracil and laser surgery can be used for stages 0 and I. Radiation or surgery varies with the size, depth, and location of the lesion and the patient's desire to maintain a functional vagina. Preservation of a functional vagina is generally possible only in the early stages. Survival rates are the same for patients treated with radiation and those treated with surgery.

Surgery is usually recommended only when the tumor is so extensive that exenteration is needed because close proximity to the bladder and rectum permits only minimal tissue margins around resected vaginal tissue.

Radiation therapy is the preferred treatment of advanced vaginal cancer. Most patients need preliminary external radiation treatment to shrink the tumor before internal radiation can begin. Then, if the tumor is localized to the vault and the cervix is present, radiation (using radium or cesium) can be given with an intrauterine tandem or ovoids; if the cervix is absent, a specially designed vaginal applicator is used instead.

To minimize complications, radioactive sources and filters are carefully placed away from radiosensitive tissues, such as the bladder and rectum. Internal radiation lasts 48 to 72 hours. depending on the dosage. (See Safe time for a radiation implant.)

Special considerations and Prevention

  • Explain the internal radiation procedure, answer the patient's questions and encourage her to express her fears and concerns.
  • Because the effects of radiation are cumulative, wear a radiosensitive badge and a lead shield (if available) when you enter the patient's room, and adhere to internal radiation safety precautions.
  • Check with the radiation therapist concerning the maximum recommended time that you can safely spend with the patient when giving direct care.
  • While the radiation source is in place, the patient must lie flat on her back. Insert an indwelling urinary catheter (usually done in the operating room), and don't change the patient's linens unless they're soiled. Give only partial bed baths. and make sure the patient has a call bell, phone, water, or anything else she needs within easy reach. The physician will order a clear-liquid or low-residue diet and an antidiarrheal drug to prevent bowel movements.
  • To compensate for immobility, encourage the patient to do active range of-motion exercises with both arms.
  • Before radiation treatment, explain the necessity of immobilization, and tell the patient what it entails (such as no linen changes and the use of an indwelling urinary catheter). Throughout therapy, encourage her to express her anxieties.
  • Instruct the patient to use a stent or perform prescribed exercises to prevent vaginal stenosis. Sexual intercourse is also helpful in preventing stenosis.

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