So many conditions cause vaginal discharge including vaginal cancer. Is there a distinct appearance if the cause is a vaginal malignancy?
This disease is strongly linked to HPV: human Papilloma virus. Smoking is another risk factor, as well as having sex with multiple partners, or with someone who’s had multiple partners.
It’s most common in women between 50 and 70, though younger woman can get it.
It’s possible for vaginal cancer to result in a discharge that does not contain blood.
“Vaginal cancers that cause an exudate could continue to produce a discharge, and it would likely be clear and runny,” says Dr. Kimberly Langdon, MD, OBGYN, medical advisor at Medzino Health, an online doctor and pharmacy.
An exudate (think of the word “exude”) is an ooze-like substance that leaks from or comes out of tissue that has somehow been damaged – such as by a tumor.
Discharge from vaginal cancer, however, isn’t guaranteed to always be clear in every single patient.
It may be brown, black-appearing or have tinges of pink or red, indicating blood, says Dr. Langdon. All of these colors would be very concerning.
A discharge from a malignant vaginal tumor may also come out as a spot here and there, or be expelled more generously.
Thus, whether it’s a tiny spot-like amount or a sudden gush would not indicate likelihood of malignancy. What would be more concerning for this is if there appears to be blood.
Another feature that neither points to malignancy nor a benign condition is apparent triggers of the discharge, such as a bowel movement, urination or exercise.
“Yes, all of these could trigger discharge to come out,” says Dr. Langdon.
Even the harmless discharge of postmenopausal atrophy can be triggered by jogging to spot one’s panties.
Jarring movements can shake up a pre-existing discharge (from cancer or a benign condition), that’s sticking to the vagina, to come loose and end up on tissue paper or in the toilet bowl.
“The best thing to do is to have an exam to determine the cause of the discharge, as most discharge is physiologic or normal,” says Dr. Langdon.
“Bloody discharge always warrants an exam.”
Don’t be fooled by the common term of “bloody,” in that ANY perceived amount of blood – even the tiniest faintest hint of pink – is just as worthy of an exam as is bright red big drops.
Tests to Have for Unexplained Vaginal Discharge
In addition to a Pap smear + HPV test, you should get at least two of the following:
• Transvaginal ultrasound
• Endometrial biopsy
However, a negative Pap smear and HPV test, with a negative transvaginal ultrasound and endometrial biopsy, are extremely reassuring of no malignant pathology.
“Vaginal cancer is exceedingly rare,” says Dr. Langdon – with about 6,200 diagnoses per year in the U.S.
Dr. Langdon, who is now retired from clinical practice, has delivered over 2,000 babies. Besides obstetrics, she specialized in gynecologic situations such as menstrual disorders, vaginitis, menopause, contraception, pelvic pain and minimally-invasive surgeries.
Lorra Garrick is a former personal trainer certified by the American Council on Exercise. At Bally Total Fitness she trained clients of all ages for fat loss, muscle building, fitness and improved health.