The most common symptom of vaginal cancer is abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding is most likely to hve another underlying cause, since vaginal cancer itself is very rare. However, women should seek medical attention of they experience any of the following smyptoms:
- Bleeding between two menstrual periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse
- Change in bleeding pattern such as irregular periods or heavy periods
- Bleeding that occurs post menopause
Some examples of less common symptoms seen in vaginal cancer include:
- Pain while urinatiing or dysuria
- Increased frequency and urge to urinate
- Presence of blood in urine
- Foul smelling discharge from the vagina
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Itching in the vagina
- A lump in the vagina
Diagnosis is usually based on a detailed history of symptoms and the pattern of vaginal bleeding. Usually, a gynaecologist deals with the diagnosis and treatment of this type of cancer along with a team of other specialists including oncologists (cancer specialists) and radiotherapists.
Examples of the examinations that may be performed include:
- An internal vaginal examination to check for lumps or swelling
- A colposcopy may be performed. This involves inserting a thin tube with a camera and a light source at the tip which allows the examiner to see the insides of the vagina, cervix and the uterus.
- A small sample of the vaginal tissue (biopsy) may be taken and sent checked for the presence of cancer cells.
- If cancer is present, imaging studies such as X-ray CT scans, MRI scan and PET scans may be performed to check how widespread the cancer is.
Once vaginal cancer is diagnosed, it is staged. Staging helps determine the best course of treatment and also helps predict the patient’s outcome. The stages of vaginal cancer include:
- Stage 1 – The cancer is confined within the vagina
- Stage 2 – The cancer has begun to spread to the walls of the vagina and is affecting the pelvis
- Stage 3 – The cancer has spreadsto the pelvis and surrounding lymph nodes
- Stage 4 – the cancer has spread to organs beyond the vagina. Initially, it spreads to the bladder and the rectum and later to distant organs such as the lungs and liver.