HPV and Vaginal Dysplasia
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection is contracted from one of more than 100 related HPVs. Each type of HPV has the potential to cause abnormal growths on a particular part of the body, usually manifesting in warts or lesions. Vaginal dysplasia is the growth of abnormal cells within the vagina, caused by an HPV infection. It has the propensity to be the precursor of vaginal cancer. The disease is sexually transmitted and usually appears in women under the age of 25 who have had multiple sexual partners.
HPV-related vaginal dysplasia is classified as low- to high-grade, depending upon the stage of development of the abnormal cells. Low-grade abnormalities often subside over time. Moderate and high grades of vaginal dysplasia require treatment which many consist of surgery to remove the affected cells and tissue. Cryotherapy is another form of treatment and involves freezing the infected tissue to remove the infected cells. Other methods include laser surgery and electrocautery (high-frequency electric current) to remove cells that are abnormal.
Detecting Vaginal Dysplasia
Detection of vaginal dysplasia generally happens during a routine pelvic exam that includes a Pap smear. Discomfort during menses or irregular menstrual periods, pelvic pain, painful urination, and unusual vaginal bleeding can all be symptoms of the early stages of vaginal cancer, a condition which can result from vaginal dysplasia. If a woman is experiencing any of these symptoms, a pelvic exam is important. The Pap smear exposes the presence of the pre-cancerous cells that often accompany HPV-related vaginal dysplasia allowing for proper treatment.
When It Becomes Cancerous
Although the occurrences of vaginal dysplasia developing into cancer tend to be few, when a woman experiences repeated infections, the risk of vaginal and gynecological cancers increases. Vaginal cancer is the result of accumulation of abnormal cells generated through the infection that do not die off, as they would in healthy production. Instead, they gather in masses which become tumors. They can then metastasize and spread to other parts of the body. Since women who have vaginal cancer do not always have signs or symptoms, early detection is key to treatment.
Should cancerous cells be found during a routine exam, then additional diagnostic testing is required to determine the extent of the cancer and whether or not it has metastasized. A PET scan, biopsy and imagining tests are run to determine what stage the cancer has progressed to. Treatment is dependent upon the type and stage of the cancer. There are no specific guidelines for vaginal cancer. However, options may include surgery, internal or external radiation therapies, and chemotherapy.