Treating Vaginal Cancer
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.
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases, they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section on our website to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section of our website to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
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).