What is Vaginal Cancer?

The Vagina

The vagina is a 3- to 4-inch (7 ½- to 10-cm) tube. It is sometimes called the birth canal and reaches from the cervix (the lower part of the uterus) to open up at the vulva (the external genitals). The vagina is lined by a layer of flat cells called squamous cells. This layer of cells is also called epithelium or epithelial lining, because it is formed by epithelial cells.

The vaginal wall underneath the epithelium contains connective tissue, muscle tissue, lymph vessels, and nerves. The vagina is usually in a collapsed state with its walls touching each other. The vaginal walls have many folds that help the vagina to open and expand during sexual intercourse or the birth of a baby. Glands near the opening of the vagina secrete mucus to keep the vaginal lining moist.

 

Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is not common. When found in early stages, it can often be cured. There are two main types of vaginal cancer:

Squamous Cell Carcinoma: Cancer that forms in squamous cells, the thin, flat cells lining the vagina. This cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina, but may spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer and is found most often in women aged 60 or older.

Adenocarcinoma: Cancer that begins in glandular (secretory) cells. Glandular cells in the lining of the vagina make and release fluids such as mucas. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes and is found most often in women aged 30 or younger.

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