Vaginal Cancer

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Treating Vaginal Cancer TOPICS

How is vaginal cancer treated?

This information represents the views of the doctors and nurses serving on the American Cancer Society’s Cancer Information Database Editorial Board. These views are based on their interpretation of studies published in medical journals, as well as their own professional experience.
The treatment information in this document is not official policy of the Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It’s intended to help you and your family make informed decisions, together with your doctor.
Your doctor may have reasons for suggesting a treatment plan different from these general treatment options. Don’t hesitate to ask him or her questions about your treatment options.

General treatment information

After the diagnostic tests are done, your cancer care team will recommend a treatment plan. Don’t feel rushed about considering your options. If there’s anything you do not understand, ask to have it explained again. The choice of treatment depends on the type of cancer and stage of the disease when it is diagnosed.

Other factors might play a part in choosing the best treatment plan. These could include your age, your overall state of health, whether you plan to have children, and other personal considerations. Vaginal cancer can affect your sex life and your ability to have children. These concerns should also be considered as you make treatment decisions. (See Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer and Fertility and Women With Cancer to learn more about these issues.) Be sure you understand all the risks and side effects of the various therapies before making a decision about treatment.

You might want to get a second opinion. This can provide more information and help you feel confident about the treatment plan you choose. Some insurance companies require a second opinion before they will pay for treatments.

Depending on the type and stage of your vaginal cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment. Doctors on your cancer treatment team may include:

  • A gynecologist: a doctor who specializes in diseases of the female reproductive tract
  • A gynecologic oncologist: a doctor who specializes in the treatment of cancers of the female reproductive system (including surgery and chemotherapy)
  • A radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
  • A medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer

Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.

Some treatments are only used to treat pre-cancers of the vagina (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia, VAIN), such as:

For invasive vaginal cancer, there are 3 main treatments:

Invasive vaginal cancer is treated mainly with radiation therapy and surgery. Chemotherapy in combination with radiation might be used to treat advanced disease.

Whenever possible, treatment is given with the goal of completely removing or destroying the cancer. If a cure is not possible, removing or destroying much of the cancer in order to prevent the tumor from growing, spreading, or returning for as long as possible is important. If the cancer has spread widely, the main goal of treatment is palliation (relieving pain, blockage of the urinary or intestinal system, or other symptoms).

Last Medical Review: 06/17/2014
Last Revised: 03/18/2015