​​​Vaginal Cancer​

The vagina, also called the birth canal, is a small tube-like organ that connects the cervix (lower part of the uterus) to the vulva (outer genital in a female body).  Vaginal cancer occurs in the cells lining the surface of the vagina. However, it is a rare type of cancer. It is mostly common in women above the age of 60 and those who may have had been exposed to the drug Diethylstilbestrol (DES)*, a synthetic non-steroidal oestrogen, in their mother’s womb. ​Other risk factors include having the human papillomavirus (HPV) infection​, cervical cancer, chronic vaginal itching or burning or a weak immune system due to a disease like ​HIV. In addition to these, smoking doubles the risk of vaginal cancer. 

*during the 1950s, the drug DES was giving to women to prevent miscarriages. Women exposed to this drug in their mother’s womb are most likely to develop the vaginal cancer.​

Due to having no distinguishable symptoms, vaginal cancer is often hard to detect until it is in the final stages. Regular check-ups with the doctor are the only solution for an early diagnosis of vaginal cancer. 

When symptoms do occur, you may report the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, often after intercourse 
  • Mass or lump in the vagina
  • Watery discharge (non-odorous)
  • Painful urination
  • Pelvic pain 
  • Constipation

You can consult a gynaecologist working with the Women’s Health Care Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital if you notice any of the above mentioned symptoms for an accurate and timely diagnosis.

You may be directed to consult a specialist working with the Oncology Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital for a detailed diagnosis. 

Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. Here are some tips to help get you started

In the attempts to diagnose vaginal cancer, your doctor will carry out a pelvic exam, rectovaginal exam and a Pap test which will determine the presence of the vaginal cancer. Further tests, carried out by our medical experts using the latest available technological techniques, may include:

  • Colposcopy in which the vagina will be examined using a colposcope, a special lighted magnifying instrument. The doctor will look for any areas of abnormal cells on the surface of the vagina which will be magnified using the colposcope.
  • Biopsy to remove a sample of the suspicious vaginal tissue for testing
  • Diagnostic imaging tests-as guided by the doctor

Your treatment will depend on the type and stage of cancer. As guided by your doctor, you can decide upon the kind of treatment you may need and the side-effects you may be willing to endure. A young woman will receive a different treatment if she wishes to remain fertile (have kids).  

Treatment will involve:

  • Surgery to remove:

    • ​The cancerous cell or small tumours and some surrounding healthy tissues to ensure complete eradication of cancer.

    • ​Part of the compromised vagina (partial vaginectomy) or the entire vagina (radical vaginectomy) along with the uterus, ovaries (hysterectomy) and lymph nodes depending on the cancer spread.

  • All the major organs of the pelvic region including the uterus, ovaries, bladder, rectum, vagina and the lower portion of the colon.

  • Chemotherapy to kill the cancerous cells using chemicals. Usually chemotherapy alone doesn’t work for women with vaginal cancer and hence it is used in combination with other treatments.

  • Radiation therapy to kill the cancerous cells by using high dose of X-rays externally on your body or by placing a radiation-filled device inside your vagina for a small period of time. 

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

​​​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.