Chemotherapy for vaginal cancer
Chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat vaginal cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Chemotherapy is given for different reasons. You may have chemotherapy to:
- shrink a tumour before surgery (called neoadjuvant chemotherapy)
- treat vaginal cancer that has come back
- treat melanoma of the vagina
- relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced vaginal cancer (called palliative chemotherapy)
Chemotherapy is sometimes combined with radiation therapy to treat advanced vaginal cancer. This is called chemoradiation. The 2 treatments are given during the same time period.
Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the vagina.
Chemotherapy drugs used for vaginal cancer
The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat vaginal cancer are:
- 5-fluorouracil (5-FU, Adrucil)
- cisplatin (Platinol AQ)
- carboplatin (Paraplatin, Paraplatin AQ)
- mitomycin (Mutamycin)
- dacarbazine (DTIC)
- cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan, Procytox)
- bleomycin (Blenoxane)
- paclitaxel (Taxol)
- docetaxel (Taxotere)
- vinblastine (Velbe)
- carmustine (BCNU)
Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for vaginal cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some women have many side effects. Other women have few or none at all.
Chemotherapy may cause side effects because it can damage healthy cells as it kills cancer cells. If you develop side effects, they can develop any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after chemotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after chemotherapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of chemotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug, the dose, how it’s given and your overall health. Some common side effects of chemotherapy drugs used for vaginal cancer are:
- low blood cell counts
- nausea and vomiting
- sore mouth and throat
- loss of appetite
- hair loss
- skin problems
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from chemotherapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
Information about specific cancer drugs
Details on specific drugs change regularly. Find out more about sources of drug information and where to get details on specific drugs.
Questions to ask about chemotherapy
Seeing my sister Erin – a young mother – struggle with the emotional blow and then the physical toll of cancer treatment made me want to do something to help women feel confident.
Establishing a national caregivers strategy
The Canadian Cancer Society is actively lobbying the federal government to establish a national caregivers strategy to ensure there is more financial support for this important group of people.