How is vaginal cancer treated?

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Surgery aims to remove the cancer. There are different ways of doing surgery:

  • Vaginectomy: Removing all or part of the vagina. If part of the vagina is removed this is known as a partial vaginectomy. If the entire vagina is removed this is called a total vaginectomy. The operation you have depends on how much of the vagina is affected by cancer.
  • Radical hysterectomy: Your womb, cervix and upper part of your vagina are removed, as well as the nearby tissues.
  • Pelvic exenteration: If the cancer has spread beyond your vagina, the surgery may involve removing the affected organs. For example, your cervix or part of your lower bowel or bladder.
  • Vaginal reconstruction: After a vaginectomy or pelvic exenteration, you may need skin grafts and plastic surgery. This is known as vaginal reconstruction.
  • Lymphadenectomy: In this surgery, the lymph nodes near your vagina are removed.

External radiotherapy

This involves using high-energy rays to kill the cancer cells. It can be given before or after surgery. It may also be given if the cancer has spread to the area around the vagina. 

Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)

The radiation source is placed inside your vagina for a very short time to kill the cancer cells.


Chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control cancer. It is often given after surgery and can be used alone or with radiotherapy. Read more about chemotherapy and its side-effects.

Will I get side-effects?

The type of side-effects you get will depend on the type of treatment, the dose, the duration and your own general health. Your doctor or nurse will discuss any possible side-effects with you before your treatment. Some treatments may cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, constipation, loss of appetite, early menopause and hair loss. A lot of treatments cause fatigue. Sexual side-effects like vaginal dryness or pain are also common.  Read more about managing cancer side-effects and symptoms.

Treating cancer that has spread (metastatic)

Metastatic or secondary cancer means the cancer has spread to other parts of your body, including the bones, lungs, liver and brain. If it has spread to the area around the vagina, it is called local spread.
If you have metastatic cancer, your doctor will aim to slow down the growth of the cancer and reduce or relieve any symptoms you have. Treatment includes surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. Or you may be suitable for a clinical trial. You may also have treatment to manage any symptoms from your cancer. This is called symptom control or palliative care.
Read more about metastatic cancer.

If you have any questions about your treatment you can also call our Support Line on 1800 200 700 to speak to a cancer nurse in confidence.

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