Vaginal Cancer: Treatment Choices

There are many treatment options for vaginal cancer. The treatment that's best for you depends on the results of your lab and imaging tests, where the cancer is growing, and if it has spread. Your age, overall health, desire to get pregnant in the future, and your preferences are part of treatment planning, too.

Learning about your treatment options

You may have questions and concerns about your treatment options. You may also want to know how you’ll feel, how your body will work after treatment, and how treatment might affect your sex life.

Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions. They can tell you what your treatment options are, how well each one is expected to work, and what the risks and side effects are. Your provider may advise a certain treatment. Or you may be offered more than 1 and asked which you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It's important to take the time you need to make the best decision for you.

Understanding vaginal cancer treatment goals

Treatment may help control or cure vaginal cancer. It can also improve your quality of life by helping to control symptoms the cancer is causing. The goal of vaginal cancer treatment is to do 1 or more of these:

  • Remove the main tumor in the vagina

  • Kill vaginal cancer cells

  • Stop the growth or spread of vaginal cancer cells

  • Prevent or delay the cancer from coming back

  • Ease symptoms caused by the cancer, such as pain or pressure on organs

Types of treatment for vaginal cancer

There are 2 main kinds of treatment for vaginal cancer:

  • Local treatments. These remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in 1 part of your body. Surgery and radiation are local treatments.

  • Systemic treatments. These destroy or control cancer cells throughout your whole body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.

You may have just 1 treatment or a combination of these treatments:

  • Surgery. Surgery is used to remove the cancer in your vagina. The type of surgery used depends on the stage of the cancer. During surgery, a biopsy may be done on nearby lymph nodes in the groin and the pelvis. Vaginal cancer often spreads (metastasizes) to these nodes. The biopsy results will help your healthcare provider know if the cancer has spread. If it has spread, other organs or tissue may need to be removed during surgery. Or you may need more treatment after surgery.

  • Radiation therapy. This treatment kills cancer cells with high-energy radiation. The radiation may come from a large machine that sends it into your body. Or radioactive implants may be put inside your vagina for a certain amount of time. Radiation might be the only treatment needed for smaller cancers. Many times, both types of radiation are used. Low-dose chemotherapy is sometimes given along with radiation therapy to help treatment work better.

  • Chemotherapy. This is the use of strong medicines to kill cancer cells throughout your body. Chemo can be used to shrink the cancer. It can reduce the chance that the cancer will spread to other parts of your body. Chemotherapy can be given alone. Or you might get it along with radiation to help treatment work better.

Clinical trials

Sometimes the only way to get newer types of treatment is through a research study. This is called a clinical trial. Talk with your healthcare provider about what clinical trials may be an option for you.

Making a decision 

Deciding on the best treatment plan may take some time. Talk with your provider about how much time you can take to check your options. You may want to get a second opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. This can help you feel sure about the treatment plan that's best for you. You also may want to include your family and friends in this process.

Online Medical Reviewer: Amy Finke RN BSN
Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals RN BSN MPH
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2023
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