Vaginal Cancer Treatment

vagina

Cancer of the vagina, also sometimes referred to as the birth canal, is a rare cancer of the female reproductive system. It is estimated that only 2,100 new cases of vaginal cancer will be diagnosed this year.

Vaginal cancer different from other female genital cancers

The vagina is the area from the lower part of the cervix that extends to the vulva, which are the external female genitals. It is important to note the specific location of the vagina in order not to confuse it with other cancers that start in other nearby organs such as the uterus, cervix or bladder that often spread to the vagina. Additionally, a cancer that affects both the cervix and the vagina is considered cervical cancer, while a cancer that involves both the vulva and the vagina is considered vulvar cancer.

Treatment options for vaginal cancer may include one or more of the following:

Laser Therapy
A high energy light is used in laser therapy to kill and destroy the cancerous tissue on the vagina. This is used mainly to treat early-stage vaginal cancer and is not typically a treatment for more advanced cancers.
Topical Therapy
Again, for early stage cancers only, medications such as chemotherapy or imiquimod may be applied topically, directly onto the cancer rather than given systemically (through an IV or by a pill).
Radiation Therapy
For the treatment of vaginal cancer, radiation therapy is given either externally or internally, and is sometimes given at the same time as chemotherapy to try to shrink tumors prior to having surgery.
Chemotherapy
Typically, chemotherapy is used to treat more advanced stages of vaginal cancer, but at times is given in combination with radiation therapy to shrink tumors prior to surgical removal.
Surgery
Typically reserved for larger tumors, or those tumors that have not responded to radiation or chemotherapy, several different types of surgery may be performed.
A local excision takes place when the tumor is removed along with a small amount of surrounding normal tissue.
A procedure called a partial or total vaginectomy occurs when part or all of the vagina, respectively, is removed.
If the vaginal cancer is located at the top part of the vagina, the cervix also may be removed, and this procedure is called a trachelectomy.
For more advanced vaginal cancers that have spread to both the uterus and cervix, a hysterectomy is typically performed.
In the procedures where all or part of the vagina is removed, reconstructive surgery also may take place in order for a woman to continue to have sexual intercourse after the surgery.

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