Vaginal Cancer

Treatment

Vaginal cancer treatments are available for all patients . There are three types of treatment options:

  • surgery (taking out the cancer in an operation)

  • radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells)

Surgery is the most common vaginal cancer treatment for all stages. A doctor may take out the cancer using one of the following:

  • Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to kill cancer cells and is useful for stage 0 cancer.

  • Wide local excision takes out the cancer and some of the tissue around it. A patient may need to have skin taken from another part of the body (grafted) to repair the vagina after the cancer has been taken out.

  • An operation in which the vagina is removed (vaginectomy) is sometimes done. When the cancer has spread outside the vagina, vaginectomy may be combined with surgery to take out the uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes (radical hysterectomy). During these operations, lymph nodes in the pelvis may also be removed (lymph node dissection).

  • If the cancer has spread outside the vagina and the other female organs, the doctor may take out the lower colon, rectum, or bladder (depending on where the cancer has spread) along with the cervix, uterus, and vagina (exenteration).

  • A patient may need skin grafts and plastic surgery to make an artificial vagina after these operations.

Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation) or from putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation). Radiation may be used alone or after surgery.

Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by pill, or it may be put into the body by a needle in a vein. Chemotherapy is called a systemic treatment because the drugs enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and can kill cancer cells outside the vagina. In vaginal cancer treatment, chemotherapy may also be put directly into the vagina itself, which is called intravaginal chemotherapy.

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