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Follow-up after treatment for vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer behaves differently in each woman, and a standard follow-up schedule would not work for everyone. Women with vaginal cancer should talk to their doctor about a follow-up plan that suits their individual situation. Follow-up care is often shared among the surgeon, cancer specialists (oncologists) and the family doctor.
After treatment has ended, new symptoms and symptoms that don’t go away should be reported to the doctor without waiting for the next scheduled appointment. These may include:
- recurrent vaginal bleeding
- worsening pain in the pelvis, back or legs
- new changes in bladder or bowel habits
- acute swelling in the legs
The chance of vaginal cancer recurring is greatest within 3 years, so close follow-up is needed during this time.
Follow-up after vaginal cancer treatment varies. Follow-up visits are usually scheduled:
- every 3 months for the first 3 years
- every 6 months for years 4 and 5
- once a year after 5 years
During a follow-up visit, the doctor usually asks questions about the side effects of treatment and how the person is coping. The doctor may do a complete physical examination, including:
- feeling the lymph nodes in the pelvis and groin
- pelvic examination and rectal examination
- Pap test – even if surgery has been done
Tests may be ordered as part of follow-up or if the doctor suspects the cancer has come back (has recurred).
- complete blood count
- imaging tests – to check response to treatment, detect recurrences or investigate new symptoms
- chest, pelvic or abdominal computed tomography (CT) scan
- chest x-ray
- positron emission tomography (PET) scan
- blood chemistry tests – to see how well the organs are functioning
If a recurrence is found during follow-up, the oncology team will assess the person with cancer to determine the best treatment options.
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.