Vaginal cancer treatment usually includes both surgery and radiation therapy. The optimal treatment approach can vary among patients; in general, a physician will work closely with a woman to develop an appropriate plan based on the type and stage of the cancer and other individual factors.
Some types of surgery that are often recommended for vaginal cancer treatment include:
- Excision – If the cancer is confined to the surface of the vagina, a surgeon may be able to remove it along with a small margin of surrounding healthy tissue.
- Partial or radical vaginectomy – Depending on the extent of the cancer, a surgeon may recommend surgery to remove part or all of the vagina, and possibly the uterus and ovaries (hysterectomy) and nearby lymph nodes (lymphadenectomy). If the vagina is completely removed, a patient may choose to undergo reconstructive surgery to create a new vagina from pieces of skin, sections of intestine or flaps of muscle obtained from other areas of the body.
- Pelvic exenteration – If the cancer has spread throughout the pelvic area or recurred, a surgeon may recommend removing some of the pelvic organs, such as the vagina, uterus, ovaries, bladder, rectum and lower portion of the colon. If necessary, additional procedures known as urostomy and colostomy can be performed to funnel urine and waist – respectively – to collection bags located outside of the body.
To address any remaining cancer cells and help reduce the likelihood of a recurrence, surgical vaginal cancer treatment is usually followed by radiation therapy, which uses targeted high-energy X-rays to destroy cancerous cells. Radiation treatment can be delivered via external beams directed at a patient’s pelvic area, or through radioactive devices, such as seeds or wires, that are placed in the vagina or surrounding tissue during surgery (brachytherapy). After an appropriate period of time, these devices are later removed. While chemotherapy is sometimes used along with radiation therapy to enhance its effectiveness, chemo is rarely used as a primary treatment for vaginal cancer.
The multispecialty team of experts in the gynecologic clinic at Moffitt Cancer Center takes a highly individualized approach to vaginal cancer treatment. These experts – including fellowship-trained surgeons, medical oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, radiation oncologists, fertility preservation specialists, social workers and supportive care providers – meet weekly as a collaborative tumor board to review each patient’s case and recommend treatment refinements as necessary.
If you’d like to learn more about vaginal cancer treatment options, the experts at Moffitt can help you determine an appropriate plan for you. Call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form online. We do not require referrals.