What to Know About Your Treatment Options for Vaginal Cancer

Your treatment for vaginal cancer depends on the results of lab tests and the extent called the stage of the disease. Your doctor may also consider your age and general health when making recommendations about a treatment. If childbearing is an issue for you, your cancer care team may consider this, too.

It's normal to want to learn all you can about vaginal cancer and your treatment choices. You probably have many questions and concerns. Your doctor is the best person to answer your questions about your treatment, how successful it is expected to be, and what the risks and side effects may be.

Treatment for vaginal cancer is either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in one certain area. The goal of systemic treatments is to kill or control cancer cells through your whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment. These are the three main treatments used for vaginal cancer.

  • Surgery

  • Radiation

  • Chemotherapy

Types and Goals of Treatment for Vaginal Cancer

Each type of treatment for vaginal cancer has a different goal. You may have more than one type of treatment. Your doctors will take your individual situation into consideration when making treatment recommendations. Here is a list of the main treatments and their goals.

  • Surgery. The goals of surgery are to remove the cancer from the vagina and to biopsy the lymph nodes in the groin. The nodes in the groin are the places vaginal cancer generally spreads. So, performing a biopsy on these nodes helps your doctor see if the cancer is spreading (metastasizing). You may need to have other organs or tissue removed during surgery, depending upon the extent of the cancer's spread.

  • Radiation therapy. The goal of this treatment is to kill cancer cells by using high-energy radiation. Your doctor may use low-dose chemotherapy along with radiation therapy to make your treatment more effective. You may have this treatment after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells. However, doctors often use radiation alone to cure vaginal cancers, especially smaller ones.

  • Chemotherapy. This is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. It is not used as often for vaginal cancer as for other types. The goal of chemotherapy is to shrink the cancer while also reducing the chance that the cancer will spread to other parts of the body. You may have chemotherapy alone or along with radiation to increase the effectiveness of the radiation therapy.

Research is ongoing in the field of vaginal cancer. New medicines and treatments are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should check on.

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