There are two primary types of vaginal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma, which accounts for the vast majority of cases, and adenocarcinoma. Symptoms usually do not develop until vaginal cancer is at an advanced stage. The exact causes of vaginal cancer are unknown, but certain factors such as age, smoking and previous conditions raise a woman’s risk of developing vaginal cancer.
Being aware of the possible signs of vaginal cancer and discussing them with your doctor right away if you experience them may improve the chance of catching it and treating it at an earlier stage. Regular gynecological exams also help doctors find pre-cancerous conditions and early invasive cancers before symptoms arise.
Vaginal tumors are treated with various approaches in radiation, surgery and chemotherapy. A multidisciplinary team of vaginal cancer experts recommends treatment plans based on each woman’s unique diagnosis and needs. Vaginal cancer treatments include:
These drugs may be given alone or in combination with radiation therapy or surgery, or both.
Radiation technologies target difficult-to-reach tumors in the vagina and help reduce the risk of common gastrointestinal and sexual function side effects associated with radiation therapy for vaginal cancer.
This is typically the first line of treatment for women with early-stage vaginal cancer. Your gynecologic oncologist may choose from a number of surgical procedures to treat vaginal cancer.
Vaginal cancer treatment options
Our vaginal cancer program is made up of a multidisciplinary team of vaginal cancer experts who have expertise in radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.
The first line in the treatment of women with early-stage vaginal cancer is surgery. Our gynecologic oncologists perform a number of vaginal cancer procedures. We also perform vaginal cancer surgery for women with sarcomas and melanomas, and for cancers that are not treated with radiation therapy.
Surgical procedures for the treatment of vaginal cancers include:
Local excision: Also known as a wide excision, the doctor removes the cancer and some of the surrounding normal tissue (the margin). Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed and examined for signs of cancer cells.
Vaginectomy: Doctors remove the vagina, and in some cases, the surrounding supporting tissue (radical vaginectomy).
Trachelectomy: This procedure removes the cervix while leaving the uterus in place. This may be performed to treat vaginal cancers that occur in the upper portion of the vagina, close to the cervix.
Hysterectomy: In this surgery, the cervix and the uterus are removed. In a radical hysterectomy, all the surrounding tissue (the parametria), the upper part of the vagina and the lymph nodes in the pelvis are removed as well. For young women, the ovaries may be left behind to preserve ovarian function. For older women, they are removed.
Vaginal reconstruction: In cases where the vagina must be removed, tissues from other parts of the body may be used to reconstruct a new vagina.
Pelvic exenteration: During this extensive vaginal cancer surgical procedure, the uterus, cervix, vagina, ovaries, bladder, rectum and nearby lymph nodes may be removed, depending on the extent of the cancer. Tissue from elsewhere in the body is used to reconstruct the vagina, and urine and stool are passed into external bags. This operation is rarely used to treat vaginal cancers but may be necessary if the cancer comes back after radiation therapy, or in cases where radiation therapy cannot be used.
Chemotherapy for vaginal cancer is often combined with radiation therapy or surgery or a combination thereof.
We offer two types of radiation for vaginal cancer patients:
External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high doses of radiation to vaginal cancer cells from outside the body, using a variety of machine-based technologies.
High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy (internal radiation) delivers high doses of radiation from implants placed close to, or inside, the tumor(s) in the vagina.