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Treatment - Vaginal cancer

Treatment for vaginal cancer

Vaginal cancer is often treatable.

The treatment you have will depend on:

  • the size and type of vaginal cancer you have
  • where it is in the vagina
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

The main treatment for vaginal cancer is radiotherapy. You may also have surgery and chemotherapy.

The specialist team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and side effects
  • work with you to do a treatment plan that is best for you
  • help you manage any side effects

If you have any symptoms or side effects that you are worried about, talk to your specialists. You do not need to wait for your next check-up.

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays of radiation to kill cancer cells. It's the main treatment for vaginal cancer.

Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer can be given from outside or inside the body (brachytherapy).

Surgery

Surgery is usually only used on vaginal cancer that's found early. It's also used if radiotherapy has not worked.

There are several surgeries used to treat vaginal cancer.

Different surgeries involve removing:

  • part of the vagina – this is only possible if the cancer is small and is in the upper section of your vagina
  • all of the vagina – sometimes lymph nodes in your pelvis are removed too
  • the vagina, cervix and womb (hysterectomy) – this can include removal of the ovaries and fallopian tubes
  • the vagina, cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes, and all or parts of the bladder, bowel and rectum – this is only offered if the cancer has spread and other treatment is not possible

Vaginal reconstruction

If your vagina has to be removed, you can ask the surgeon about vaginal reconstruction.

A vaginal reconstruction uses skin and muscle from other parts of your body to create a new vagina.

This means you may be able to have vaginal sex again once you have recovered from the operation.

Ask your surgeon about the risks and benefits of vaginal reconstruction. Some people decide they do not want to have additional surgery.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

It's not often used on its own to treat vaginal cancer.

You may have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiotherapy).

Care after your treatment

A member of your specialist team will be able to give you information on how often you will need check-ups after your treatment.

You will usually be seen every few months for the first few years. And at each visit a doctor or nurse will check if you have any worries or problems.

It can also help to get support from family, friends or a support organisation if you get anxious between appointments.

  • Eve Appeal has a free specialist health information helpline to answer any questions you may have. Call 0808 802 0019.
  • Macmillan Cancer Support also has a free helpline. Call 0808 808 0000.

Page last reviewed: 03 December 2021
Next review due: 03 December 2024