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Medical Marijuana and Cancer, Vaginal

marijuana and vaginal cancer

Nearly every state approving medical cannabis allows its use for patients with cancer. Marijuana can help you ease nausea, thwart pain, boost your mood, fight depression, increase your appetite and so much more. It's easy to see why so many patients turn to its powerful potential. Like other types of cancer, patients suffering from vaginal cancer can also benefit from the medicinal effects of cannabis.

What Is Vaginal Cancer?

Vaginal cancer is a rare form of cancer women can develop that typically occurs in the cells lining your vaginal surface. Vaginal malignant diseases are either primary or metastatic vaginal cancers from distant or adjacent organs. Primary vaginal cancers are not involved with the vulva distally or external cervical proximally — they occur strictly in the vagina.

Risk Factors for Vaginal Cancer

Exposure to the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) and your age — usually 60 or over — are two factors that increase your risk of contracting vaginal cancer. Other risks include having:

  • A history of cervical cancer, abnormal cervix cells or cancer of the uterus
  • A human papillomavirus (HPV) diagnosis
  • A uterus health problem-related hysterectomy

Types of Vaginal Cancer

The type of vaginal cancer you have depends on the cells where your cancer started. The four main types of vaginal cancer include:

  1. Vaginal Squamous Cell Carcinoma: The most common type begins in the flat, thin squamous cells lining your vagina surface
  2. Vaginal Melanoma: Develops in the melanocytes, or pigment-producing cells, of your vagina
  3. Vaginal Adenocarcinoma: Develops on your vagina surface in the glandular cells
  4. Vaginal Sarcoma: Develops in your vaginal walls in the muscle cells or connective tissue cells
vaginal cancer types

History of Vaginal Cancer

Alexander Brunschwig released the initial cases of pelvic exenteration in 1946. Five of 22 surgical patients in his first series died from this radical surgery that removes all pelvic cavity organs. The initial procedure composed of connecting the colostomy to the ureters. Bricker, in 1950, modified the operation after various other changes improved the its outcome. Today, with continent vesicostomy and vaginal reconstruction, pelvic exenteration is an acceptable surgical treatment in some instances.

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

You may not notice any symptoms of early vaginal cancer. However, once it progresses, you might begin experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Watery vaginal discharge
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding after menopause or intercourse
  • A mass or lump in your vagina
  • Constipation
  • Frequent or painful urination
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain in the back of your legs
  • Painful sexual intercourse
  • Swelling of your legs

Consult with your physician if you’re experiencing any of these or other vaginal cancer-related symptoms. Since there aren’t always symptoms of vaginal cancer at first, you should continue to have regular pelvic exams.

Effects of Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer, like cervical cancer, affects your sex organs, which can be uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. Often, people with cancers like penile, vulvar and vaginal cancers may feel embarrassed when talking about these private areas of their bodies.

But this shouldn't deter you from getting the emotional support you need. Your healthcare team understands your embarrassment and will make it more comfortable for you to talk with them about it.

If your vaginal cancer links to HPV, you may feel like you don't deserve help or support from loved ones or other people. You may believe they think it was your behavior that caused your cancer. Even though HPV can increase your risk of vaginal cancer, it doesn't mean it caused the condition, and most genital HPV infections don’t lead to cancer. Vaginal cancer may affect any woman, regardless of her sexual history.

Living with this feeling of shame can make you feel:

  • Hopeless
  • Guilty
  • Ashamed
  • Embarrassed
  • Isolated

When feeling alone in all this, it can lead to anxiety and depression. If you're affected by these types of feelings, you should tell your healthcare team. There are resources available to you when you're living with vaginal cancer. Your doctor can also point you in the direction of helpful support groups, one-on-one counseling, medication or medical marijuana recommendations.

Vaginal Cancer Statistics

Vaginal cancer statistics reported by American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) with support from Conquer Cancer Foundation include:

  • Estimates show around 4,810 women in the U.S. will receive a vaginal cancer diagnosis this year.
  • About 75 percent of diagnosed vaginal cancers were due to HPV from 2008 through 2012.
  • Approximately 1,240 deaths will arise this year from this disease, estimates show.
  • Patients with vaginal cancer have an 84 percent five-year survival rate when their healthcare team detects the cancer in its earliest stage before being able to spread. About 32 percent of women receive a diagnosis at this stage.
  • If the cancer hasn’t spread beyond the vagina, there is a 75 percent five-year survival rate.
  • Once the cancer spreads outside the wall of the vagina, there is a 57 percent five-year survival rate.
vaginal cancer diagnosis

Current Treatments Available for Vaginal Cancer

The best treatment for vaginal cancer is prevention. However, there's no sure way to prevent this disease. You can, however, reduce your risk if you undergo routine PAP tests and pelvic exams.

The treatment you receive for your vaginal cancer revolves around specific factors, including the type and stage of your vaginal cancer. Work closely with your doctor to decide on the best treatment plan for you based on your side effects and goals. Here are four treatment methods available for patients with vaginal cancer.

Surgery

The most common types of surgery to treat vaginal cancer include:

  • Removal of Lesions and Small Tumors: The surgeon can cut away cancer residing on your vagina surface in this surgery. They may also cut a small amount of healthy tissue surrounding the tumor to ensure the removal of all cancer cells.
  • Vaginectomy: In this procedure, the surgeon will remove part or all of your vagina — whatever is required to get rid of all the cancer. They may need to remove your ovaries, nearby lymph nodes or uterus, as well, depending on the magnitude of your condition.
  • Pelvic Exenteration: A pelvic exenteration is the removal of most of your pelvic organs. The surgeon may decide on this extensive surgery if your cancer is spreading throughout your pelvic area. They may also use this surgery if you have a recurrence of vaginal cancer. During this procedure, your surgeon may remove many of your pelvic area organs, such as your ovaries, bladder, vagina, uterus, lower part of your colon and rectum. They'll create openings in your abdomen, so your urine and waste may leave your body through colostomy bags.

If the surgeon completely removes your vagina, you may wish to undergo another surgery where they construct a new vagina. In this procedure, your surgeon forms a new vagina from different areas of your body like sections of intestine, pieces of skin or flaps of muscle.

The type of surgery dictates many of the side effects you’ll likely experience after surgery. Typically, the less complex the operation, the fewer side effects you will experience. Any surgery, no matter what type, can cause instant side effects, particularly pain. You may also experience blood clots or infection.

If the surgeon removed your lower vagina, you may have scar tissue form. Some women have bowel or bladder problems after their vaginal cancer surgery. You may experience a reduced sexual drive, trouble reaching orgasm or less pleasure during sexual intercourse.

Radiation Therapy

Surgeons use high-powered energy beams like protons and X-rays during radiation therapy to kill cancer cells. There are two ways they deliver radiation:

  • Internal Radiation: Known as brachytherapy, this procedure involves the surgeon placing radioactive devices like cylinders, seed, wires or other materials inside your vagina or the tissue surrounding it. After a certain period, they remove the devices. This procedure is standard for those in the earlier stage of their cancer. Usually, it’s all they need.
  • External Radiation: Also known as external beam radiation, this procedure requires the surgeon to direct the radiation at just your pelvis or your entire abdomen. The location they choose depends on the extent of your vaginal cancer. The doctor will position you on a table and maneuver a large radiation machine around you to target your treatment area. In most cases, patients must undergo external beam radiation.

Radiation therapy kills growing cancerous cells quickly, but can damage healthy cells nearby, too, which leads to side effects. The side effects you’ll experience from radiation hinge on the intensity and location of the treatment. Potential side effects may include:

  • Vaginal discharge
  • Red, sore skin similar to a sunburn
  • Tiredness
  • Diarrhea
  • Feeling sick
  • Painful urination
  • Infertility or early menopause
  • Vagina narrowing

Chemotherapy

If radiation and surgery aren't able to control your vaginal cancer, your doctor may recommend other treatments, including chemotherapy. During chemo, the use of certain medications kills your cancer cells. Since it's not clear if chemo is an optimal treatment for vaginal cancer, it's typically not used by itself to treat vaginal cancer. However, it can be combined with other treatments, like radiation therapy, to improve the effectiveness.

As the chemo wipes out growing cancer cells, it also damages healthy cells. This damage to your healthy cells may lead to other side effects, like infection or fatigue. Chemo may also damage mucous membrane cells, such as those inside your throat, mouth, stomach and other areas throughout your body.

As a result, you may develop mouth sores and digestive system problems, such as diarrhea. Cell damage to the roots of your hair or follicles could result in hair loss. Of course, not everyone reacts to chemotherapy the same way.

Clinical Trials

This option is your last-case scenario. For patients who aren’t responding to surgery, radiation or chemotherapy, doctors can use clinical trials to experiment with new methods of treatment. Clinical trials may give you the opportunity to try advanced treatments for vagina cancer, but there's no guarantee they'll cure you.

How Marijuana Can Treat Side Effects of Vaginal Cancer and Its Treatment

Because having pre-cancer, uterine or cervical cancer increases your risk of vaginal squamous cell cancer, marijuana treatment would most likely work the same way for vaginal cancer as it does cervical or uterine.

As with many cancers, medical cannabis for vaginal cancer may have a positive effect on the reproduction and behavior of cancer cells in the vagina. Marijuana's cannabinoids slow vaginal cancer cell reproduction to where the cells can't reproduce and end up dying without spreading.

Patients can use cannabis oils specially made by doctors and scientists for patients for this process — you take the oil orally. Cannabis oil is rapidly becoming popular in cancer treatment because it may help eliminate dangerous cells from a cancer patient's body.

marijuana useful treatment

One new study now shows medical weed could be useful as a treatment for cervical cancer. Through petri dish/test tube or in vitro, analysis, researchers from South Africa found cannabidiol (CBD) the non-psychotropic cannabinoid could offer anticarcinogenic properties. The researchers claimed the cannabis, through a cell death process known as apoptosis, acted on the cancer cells inhibiting their growth and causing them to kill themselves. While cervical and vaginal cancer are separate conditions, they are very similar.

Another study coming from the journal of Current Clinical Pharmacology showed medical pot reduces inflammation and serves as a preventative agent. Researchers believed this could also reduce the likelihood of cancer.

Which Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer Can Medical Marijuana Treat?

Many people find cannabis and vaginal cancer treatment effectively eases chemotherapy's debilitating side effects. The main symptoms marijuana can quell include:

Marijuana for vaginal cancer can also:

As you’ll see through information provided by the National Cancer Institute, THC is the primary active cannabinoid, but CBD in weed helps to relieve pain, reduce inflammation and decrease anxiety without giving you the “high” that comes from THC.

cbd for cancer

There are psychoactive cannabinoids in marijuana for vaginal cancer, which means they act on your brain and can alter your mood. They also help to provide clinical relief for nausea and vomiting, pain, loss of appetite, depression and anxiety, along with helping to relieve side effects of cancer treatments.

Best Strains of Marijuana to Use for Vaginal Cancer Symptoms and Treatment Side Effects

There is an entire range of strains to choose from, each designed with the proper cannabinoids to relieve your specific symptoms, fight the disease and soothe its treatment's side effects to give you a better quality of life.

Strains you may wish to experiment with to treat your vaginal cancer symptoms and treatment side effects include:

  • Girl Scout Cookies (Hybrid): Great for pain, nausea and appetite stimulation, this strain is perfect for patients undergoing chemo.
  • Ghost Train Haze (Sativa): Energizing and high in THC, this strain is good for morning or midday use.
  • Harlequin (Sativa): Mild potency but high in CBD, Harlequin doesn't cause drowsiness and helps you maintain your mental focus.
  • Critical Mass (Indica-Dominant): High in both CBD and THC, Critical Mass is a good strain for insomnia, pain and nausea.
  • Pineapple Chunk (Indica-Dominant): Great for total body relaxation, this indica-dominant strain is high in THC.
  • White Rhino (Indica): White Rhino stimulates the appetite and helps with insomnia.
  • Island Sweet Skunk (Sativa): This uplifting strain high in CBD is great for stress, anxiety and pain relief.
  • AK-47 (Hybrid): AK-47 has an above-average potency of THC.
  • Violator Kush (Indica): This strain contains cannabinoids believed to be highly effective in tackling cancer and is high in both CBD and THC.

Speak to your medical marijuana doctor or budtender to learn more about these strains or others that may help you deal with your vaginal cancer treatment side effects.

Methods of Ingestion to Treat Vaginal Cancer Side Effects

Although patients with cancer often reach out for edibles, CBD oil and other potent concentrates, most go with vaporizing or smoking medical marijuana for vaginal cancer. Internal suppositories are suitable for vaginal cancer and help absorb active substances close to the affected area.

If you're struggling with vaginal cancer, you could qualify for a medical marijuana card — check with your state’s health department to be sure. Once you believe you qualify, set up an appointment for an exam and consultation with a medical professional who is licensed to approve your disease. If you meet their requirements, they’ll recommend you for a medical marijuana card. Once you receive it, you can start relieving your debilitating cancer symptoms and treatment side effects right away.

To get this process started, use our database to search for a medical marijuana doctor and find a cannabis dispensary near you today.

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This information is not provided by medical professionals and is intended only to complement, and not to replace or contradict, any health or medical advice or information provided by healthcare professionals.  If you have any questions, please contact your doctor or other healthcare professional.

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