Our Treatment Approach
At MD Anderson, a team of renowned physicians customizes your care to be sure you receive the most advanced treatments for vaginal cancer. And, because we go beyond treating the disease, we always keep your quality of life in mind. For this reason, we focus on therapies that have the least impact on your body, yet target the cancer with leading-edge methods.
MD Anderson treats more women each year with vaginal cancer than most oncologists in the nation. This gives us a level of expertise that is rare and translates to better outcomes in many cases of vaginal cancer.
Like all surgeries, vaginal cancer surgery is most successful when performed by a specialist with as much experience as possible in the particular procedure. MD Anderson surgeons are among the most skilled and recognized in the world. They perform a number of surgeries for vaginal cancer each year, using the newest, most-advanced techniques. Special areas of focus include:
- Surgical methods that allow some women to keep the ability to have children
- Reconstructive surgery after treatment
And we’re constantly researching newer, safe, more-advanced vaginal cancer treatments. This translates to a number of clinical trials for vaginal cancer.
Our Vaginal Cancer Treatments
If you are diagnosed with vaginal cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- Type and stage of the cancer
- Your age and general health
- If you want to have children
Your treatment for vaginal cancer will be customized to your particular needs. Sometimes two or more treatments are combined. Chemotherapy and/or radiation may be used before surgery to help shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove. Sometimes radiation is used to treat lymph nodes that may have cancer.
One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat vaginal cancer or help relieve symptoms.
A drug is applied directly onto the cancer. Topical therapy is not used to treat invasive vaginal cancer.
Surgery may be used for:
- Early stage vaginal cancer
Your team of doctors will decide which method is best for you. Common surgeries for vaginal cancer include:
Laser surgery: This procedure may be used to treat precancerous changes, but it is not used for invasive vaginal cancer. Abnormal cells are burned off with a laser beam.
Excision: The cancer and some tissue on each side of it are surgically removed.
Vaginectomy: All or part of the vagina is removed.
Trachelectomy: The cervix and surrounding tissue are surgically removed but not the vagina. This procedure sometimes can be used for young women who wish to keep the ability to have children.
Lymph nodes may be removed during surgery. A cerclage or stitch is used to help support the base of the uterus. If more cancer is found during the surgery, a hysterectomy probably will be done.
This is a highly specialized procedure that requires a great deal of skill on the part of the surgeon to be successful. If you are considering this surgery to treat vaginal cancer, be sure the doctor performing it has a high level of experience in this procedure.
Hysterectomy: This operation removes the uterus and the cervix, but not the tissue next to the uterus. The vagina and nearby lymph nodes are not removed. The surgery may be done through the vagina or through an incision (cut) in the abdomen.
Radical hysterectomy: The cervix, uterus, part of the vagina, the tissues surrounding the cervix (parametria) and nearby lymph nodes are removed, either through the vagina or a cut on the abdomen. The ovaries and fallopian tubes also may be removed at the same time. This is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy (BSO).
Vaginal reconstruction: After surgery to remove the vaginal cancer, some women are able to have surgery to make a new vagina from tissue or skin from elsewhere on the body. This allows you to have intercourse.
Lymphadenectomy: If cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the groin or pelvis areas, or the surgeon wants to examine them to see if cancer has spread, it may be necessary to remove the glands surgically. This also is called a lymph node dissection. Lymphedema, which is caused by decreased fluid drainage, may be a side effect of this surgery.
Pelvic exenteration: Although this surgery is used rarely for vaginal cancer, it may be needed if the cancer has come back or it cannot be treated with radiation. As well as the organs and tissues removed in a radical hysterectomy, the bladder, cervix, rectum and part of the colon are removed.
- If the bladder is removed, a piece of intestine may be used to make a new bladder. Then urine may be drained through a catheter (tube) into a urostomy, which is a small opening on the abdomen, or into a small plastic bag worn on the outside of the body.
- If the rectum and part of the colon are removed, you may have a colostomy, which is an opening on the abdomen that allows solid waste (stool) to pass into a small bag worn on the outside of the body. Sometimes the colon may be reconnected so that a colostomy is not needed.
To learn more about the surgery, watch Total Pelvic Exenteration: What You Need to Know.
MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced vaginal cancer chemotherapy options.
New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target vaginal cancer tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
MD Anderson provides the most advanced radiation treatments, including:
- Brachytherapy: Tiny radioactive seeds or rods are placed in the body close to the tumor
- External beam radiation: From a machine outside the body
Our Vaginal Cancer Clinical Trials
Because of its status as one of the world’s premier cancer centers, MD Anderson participates in clinical trials (research studies) of new therapies for vaginal cancer. Sometimes they are your best option for treatment. Other times, they help researchers learn how to treat cancer and improve the future of cancer treatment.