What is the vagina?
The vagina is the passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods. It is also called the “birth canal.” The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb, or uterus) and the vulva (the external genitalia).
How is vaginal cancer diagnosed?
There are several tests used to diagnose vaginal cancer, including:
• pelvic examination of the vagina, and other organs in the pelvis, checking for tumors, lumps, or masses (i.e., may include colposcopy)
• colposcopy – a procedure that uses an instrument with magnifying lenses, called a colposcope, to examine the cervix for abnormalities. If abnormal tissue is found, a biopsy is usually performed (colposcopic biopsy).
• Pap test (also called Pap smear) – test that involves microscopic examination of cells collected from the cervix, used to detect changes that may be cancer or may lead to cancer, and to show noncancerous conditions, such as infection or inflammation.
• computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan) – a diagnostic imaging procedure using a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
• magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
• positron emission tomography (PET) scan – radioactive-tagged glucose (sugar) is injected into the bloodstream. Tissues that use the glucose more than normal tissues (such as tumors) can be detected by a scanning machine. PET scans can be used to find small tumors or to check if treatment for a known tumor is working.
• biopsy – a procedure in which tissue samples are removed from the vagina for examination under a microscope; to determine if cancer or other abnormal cells are present. The diagnosis of cancer is confirmed only by a biopsy.
Treatment for vaginal cancer:
Specific treatment for vaginal cancer will be determined by your physician based on:
• your overall health and medical history
• extent of the disease
• your tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
• expectations for the course of the disease
• your opinion or preference
Generally, there are three kinds of treatment available for patients with cancerous or precancerous conditions of the vagina:
o laser surgery to remove the cancer, including LEEP (loop electroexcision procedure)
o local excision to remove the cancer
o (partial) vaginectomy to remove the vagina
• chemotherapy (topical)
• radiation therapy