Vaginal cancer is not a common cancer. Vaginal cancer is cancer that begins in the vagina. There are two basic types of vaginal cancer:
* Squamous cell carcinoma is cancer that forms in squamous cells. Squamous cell vaginal cancer spreads slowly and usually stays near the vagina without spreading, but it is possible for it to spread to the lungs and liver. This is the most common type of vaginal cancer. Squamous cell carcinoma is usually found in women that are 60 years old or older.
* Adenocarcinoma is cancer that begins in glandular cells. Adenocarcinoma is much more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. Adenocarcinoma is usually diagnosed in women who are 30 years old or younger.
The most serious and significant risk factor for developing either type of vaginal cancer is exposure to the drug DES (Diethylstilbestrol). DES is a synthetic hormone that was given to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971. It was believed that DES would prevent miscarriages. It is possible (maybe probable) that DES will increase the risk of uterine, ovarian, or breast cancer in women who took it, and DES has also has been linked to an increased risk of clear cell carcinoma of the vagina or cervix in daughters exposed to DES before birth.
We also know that exposure to the human papilloma virus (HPV) or having an HPV infection is a real risk factor for developing vaginal cancer. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) recently approved the use of the vaccine, Gardisil, for girls and women between the ages of 9 and 26. This vaccine is administered in the form of three shots given over a six-month period. Gardisil has proven very effective and perfectly safe.
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