Radiotherapy for vaginal cancer

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Radiotherapy is a treatment that uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. Two types of radiotherapy can be used for vaginal cancer.

External beam radiotherapy

The X-rays come from a machine called a linear accelerator. They are aimed directly at your cancer cells to destroy them. Read more about radiotherapy

Ovarian transposition

This is surgery you may have before external radiotherapy to move one of your ovaries from the pelvis. This is to try to protect it from being damaged by the radiation, to keep your fertility. Read more about fertility and cancer. 

Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)

Brachytherapy gives a high dose of radiation to a small area. Usually you have 2 or 3 treatments with a few days between each one. 

Before treatment you will have a procedure under anaesthetic to have special tubes inserted into your vagina.  A urinary catheter will also be placed at this time and will remain in and removed along with the tubes at the end of the treatment. Then you will have a scan to help your doctors plan your treatment. This planning can take 2-3 hours.

Getting brachytherapy

The radiation therapist will connect the tubes to the treatment machine and the radioactive source travels through the tubes to deliver the dose of radiation.  You will be on your own in the room during treatment. However, there is an intercom and camera in the room so the doctor, radiation therapist and nurse can see and talk to you from outside. Treatment can be interrupted if necessary. Once the treatment is finished (5-10 minutes) the tubes are removed. 

This may be uncomfortable, but it shouldn't be painful. You will then be taken back to the ward and usually you will be able to go home the same evening. Read more about brachytherapy.

Intracavity radiotherapy

Treatment involves putting a plastic tube into the vagina on 2 or more occasions. The tube stays in place for 5-10 minutes. You will be awake for the treatment and you don’t need to have an anaesthetic. You may feel a pressure sensation but you should not feel pain. You will be able to go home after your treatment.

Side-effects of vaginal radiotherapy

Short term possible side-effects

  • Vaginal and back passage irritation
  • Changes to your bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea)
  • Skin irritation and rashes in the area
  • Tiredness (fatigue)
  • Feeling sick
  • Problems passing urine
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Abdominal (tummy) cramps

These side-effects usually last for 2 to 4 weeks after treatment.

Longer term possible side-effects

  • Early menopause
  • Narrowing of the vagina
  • Difficulty having sex
  • Infertility
  • Bladder or bowel problems 

These can happen months or even years after treatment. 

For more information

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1800 200 700

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