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Treatments for vaginal cancer
If you have vaginal cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for vaginal cancer, your healthcare team will consider:
- stage of the tumour
- location of the tumour
- type of tumour
- size of the tumour
- your overall health
- previous radiation therapy to the pelvis
- whether you want to become pregnant in the future
You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for vaginal cancer.
Radiation therapy may be used to treat any stage of vaginal cancer. A combination of external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy is usually used. Sometimes only brachytherapy is given.
Depending on the stage and location of the tumour, you may have one of the following types of surgery.
Wide local excision removes the tumour and a wide area of tissue around it. It may be done to treat a small stage 1 vaginal carcinoma or a small stage 1 melanoma of the vagina.
Vaginectomy removes all or part of the vagina. It may be done for stages 1 and 2 of both vaginal carcinoma and melanoma of the vagina.
Hysterectomy removes the uterus. It may be done for stage 1 of both vaginal carcinoma and sarcoma of the vagina. A total hysterectomy is done when the cervix and uterus must be removed. A radical hysterectomy is done when the cervical tumour is large. The cervix, uterus, some of the structures and tissues near the cervix and nearby lymph nodes are removed.
Pelvic exenteration removes the cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, lymph nodes, and the rectum, bladder or both. It is sometimes done when cancer comes back after being treated.
Lymph node dissection removes lymph nodes in the pelvis and groin in order to check if they have cancer cells in them.
Vaginal reconstruction repairs and reconstructs the vagina. It may be done after a vaginectomy or pelvic exenteration.
Chemotherapy may be given to treat vaginal cancer that has come back after treatment or stage 4B vaginal cancer. It may also be given to treat melanoma of the vagina.
If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment
You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.
Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.
Some clinical trials in Canada are open to women with vaginal cancer. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.
Questions to ask about treatment
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.