Vaginal Cancer Treatment

Expertly treating women's cancers with compassion.

Vaginal cancer patient and gynecological oncologist discuss treatment

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.

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 one, and asked which one 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 the goals of treatment for vaginal cancer

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 one 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

Vaginal cancer treatment options

There are several standard treatments for vaginal cancer.  Like many cancers, surgery, radiation and chemotherapy are among them. Many people undergo a combination of treatments. 

Surgeries may include one of these options:

  • Laser surgery involves using a laser beam to make a bloodless cut in tissue or to remove a lesion or tumor.
  • Lymph node dissection is the removal of the lymph nodes and a sample of tissue, which is checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. Also known as lymphadenectomy.
  • Pelvic exenteration is the removal of the lower colon, rectum, bladder, cervix, vagina and ovaries, as well as nearby lymph nodes.
  • Total hysterectomy is removal the uterus and cervix.
  • Vaginectomy is removing all or part of the vagina.
  • Wide local excision involves removing the cancer and some of the normal tissue around the cancer.

Legacy Health surgeons are trained in minimally invasive techniques, including robotic surgery. These methods allow you to recover more quickly from procedures such as hysterectomy or vaginectomy.

Radiation uses high-energy X-rays or other radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing. Radiation can be one of two types:

  • External radiation uses a machine outside the body and aims radiation toward the cancer.
  • Brachytherapy uses a radioactive material placed in the body, directly in contact with the tumor, so healthy tissues have less exposure to radiation.  Brachytherapy can also be called implant radiation therapy, internal radiation therapy or radiation brachytherapy. Legacy’s technologically advanced brachytherapy program is the largest and most experienced in the region. Learn about brachytherapy.

Talk to your doctor about these and other options for treating vaginal cancer. Researchers are discovering new therapies for treating cancer all the time, giving doctors new resources for your care.

Experts in treating vaginal cancer

Legacy Cancer Institute, located in Portland, OR, ranks among the nation’s best cancer programs. Our team features some of the region’s most recognized specialists who work together to diagnose and develop a personalized treatment plan for you. Find the right provider and treatment close to home.

Legacy Cancer Institute is accredited as an integrated network cancer program by the American College of surgeons Commission on Cancer (CoC). Learn more about our quality cancer care.

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Working together for you

Our cancer experts work together with a common goal: delivering the right care for you.

A range of specialists collaborate regularly in meetings called tumor boards to discuss the best plan for your care. Your treatment plan is made just for you, depending on your general health, your age, your particular cancer and its growth.

Legacy Health collaborates with the OHSU Knight Cancer Institute to advance cancer care in our region. By working together, you benefit from the strength of both leaders in cancer care. As an integrated community cancer program for adults, we make sure that you have access to the latest treatments, technology and research available. 

What happens next 

Many cancer treatments can cause challenging side effects. Your cancer team is dedicated to helping you manage these issues in the best ways possible.

To see how well your treatment is working, some of the tests used to diagnose and stage your cancer may be repeated. Your doctor uses these tests to decide whether to stop, change or continue treatment based on the results. The tests can also determine if cancer has returned.

Whenever possible, we work to stop cancer. But when we can’t, we can often control it for a better quality of life, often called palliative care.

More support 

You are not alone. Legacy offers support throughout your cancer journey, as well as care for your emotional, social and spiritual needs.