Many different types of surgery can be used to treat vaginal cancer. The approach recommended for each patient primarily depends on the extent of the cancer, although several additional factors will also come under consideration. In most cases, patients have surgery to remove as much of the cancer as possible, then undergo chemotherapy, radiation therapy or another type of treatment to destroy any residual cancer cells.
Surgical options for vaginal cancer include:
- Laser surgery – This surgery may be recommended for women with vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN), a pre-cancerous condition that has not yet become malignant. During laser surgery, a surgeon uses a narrow beam of intense light to destroy abnormal cells within the vagina.
- Wide local excision – This surgery is most commonly recommended for women with locally confined, early-stage cancers that have not spread into nearby tissues. During this procedure, a surgeon removes the cancerous lesion as well as several healthy cells from the surrounding area.
- Partial vaginectomy – This surgery, which involves the removal of the upper part of the vagina, is used to treat cancers that have developed in that specific part of the organ.
- Total vaginectomy – This surgery is used to treat cancers that have spread beyond a small, well-defined area in the vagina. A total vaginectomy is the removal of the entire vagina; following this procedure, a woman may elect to undergo plastic reconstruction surgery to allow for vaginal intercourse.
- Radical hysterectomy – This surgery may be recommended for cancers that have spread through the vaginal wall and grown into other parts of the reproductive system. During this procedure, a surgeon removes the uterus, the tissues that hold the uterus in place and all of the surrounding lymph nodes.
Coping With Surgery for Vaginal Cancer
It’s normal to feel a range of emotions leading up to and after receiving surgery for vaginal cancer. These emotions can include a feeling of loss, sadness and anxiety. It’s important to talk to your doctor about the surgery itself to understand what the procedure will entail and the possible side effects. It’s also crucial to have a discussion about your sexual health and fertility with your doctor, including what sex might look like after this type of surgery and what can be done to preserve your fertility before surgery.
Moffitt Cancer Center’s Approach to Vaginal Cancer Surgery
A woman’s decision to undergo vaginal cancer surgery is a highly personal one, and the expert oncologists at Moffitt Cancer Center help every patient select the best treatments for her needs. As a high-volume center, we have extensive experience with each of these procedures, as well as a designated team of surgeons who specialize in gynecological procedures.