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Vaginal cancer

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Treatment of vaginal cancer

Treatment for vaginal cancer is given by cancer specialists (oncologists). Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work closely with the person with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

Treatment plans are individualized to meet the unique needs of each person with cancer. Treatment decisions for vaginal cancer are based on:

  • stage of the tumour
  • type of tumour
  • location of the tumour
  • size of the tumour
  • the woman’s overall health
  • history of previous radiation therapy to the pelvis
  • the woman’s plans to have more children

Treatment options for vaginal cancer

  • surgery
    • A wide local excision may be an option to treat small stage I vaginal cancer.
    • A vaginectomy may be done for stage I and II vaginal cancer.
    • A hysterectomy is done when the cervix and uterus must be removed (called a total hysterectomy). It may be used to treat stage I vaginal cancers near the cervix.
    • A lymphadenectomy may be done to remove lymph nodes from inside the pelvis and groin to check for spread of the cancer.
    • A pelvic exenteration is usually done for a local cancer recurrence after radiation therapy. It is rarely done for stage III and IV vaginal cancer.
    • Vaginal reconstruction to repair or reconstruct the vagina may follow surgery.
  • radiation therapy
    • External beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy may be given in combination.
    • External beam radiation therapy may also be given to treat metastatic lymph nodes in the pelvis and groin.
  • chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy is often given at the same time as radiation therapy to make the radiation work better.
    • It may be used to treat advanced or recurrent vaginal cancer.
  • follow-up after treatment is finished
    • It is important to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 3 years after treatment.

Clinical trials

Clinical trials investigate better ways to prevent, detect and treat cancer. There are some clinical trials in Canada that are open to women with vaginal cancer. For more information, go to clinical trials.

See a list of questions to ask your doctor about treatment.

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