Treating Vaginal Cancer

If you’ve been diagnosed with vaginal cancer, your cancer care team will discuss your treatment options with you. It’s important that you think carefully about each of your choices. You will want to weigh the benefits of each treatment option against the possible risks and side effects.

Which treatments are used for vaginal cancer and pre-cancers?

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

Many cases of low-grade VAIN will go away on their own, so some doctors will choose to watch them closely without starting treatment. If the area of VAIN doesn’t go away or gets worse, treatment is usually started. Higher grade VAIN is not likely to go away on its own, so treatment is usually started right away.

For invasive vaginal cancer, there are 3 main treatments:

Invasive vaginal cancer is treated mainly with radiation therapy and surgery. Chemotherapy given along with radiation might be used to treat advanced disease. See Treatment Options for Vaginal Cancer by Type and Stage for information on common treatment plans.

Which doctors treat vaginal cancer?

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.

Making treatment decisions

Your treatment will depend on the type and stage of your cancer, but other factors might also play a part in choosing the best treatment plan. These could include your age, your overall health, whether you plan to have children, and your personal preferences. Be sure you understand the risks and side effects of all the options before making a decision about treatment.

Vaginal cancer can affect your sex life and your ability to have children, so these concerns should also be considered as you make treatment decisions. See Fertility and Sexual Side Effects for more information.

Getting a second opinion

You may also want to get a second opinion. This can give you more information and help you feel more certain about the treatment plan you choose. If you aren’t sure where to go for a second opinion, ask your doctor for help.​

Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial

Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to learn more about 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're 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. See Clinical Trials 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.

Choosing to stop treatment or choosing no treatment at all

For some people, when treatments have been tried and are no longer controlling the cancer, it could be time to weigh the benefits and risks of continuing to try new treatments. Whether or not you continue treatment, there are still things you can do to help maintain or improve your quality of life. Learn more in If Cancer Treatments Stop Working.

Some people, especially if the cancer is advanced, might not want to be treated at all. There are many reasons you might decide not to get cancer treatment, but it’s important to talk to your doctors before you make that decision. Remember that even if you choose not to treat the cancer, you can still get supportive care to help with pain or other symptoms.

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, 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.

The treatment information given here is not official policy of the American Cancer Society and is not intended as medical advice to replace the expertise and judgment of your cancer care team. It is 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.