Vaginal cancer treatments

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by

Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on June 7, 2022.

Our vaginal cancer program is made up of a multidisciplinary team of vaginal cancer experts who have expertise in radiation, surgery and chemotherapy.


The first line in the treatment of women with early-stage vaginal cancer is surgery. Our gynecologic oncologists perform a number of vaginal cancer procedures. We also perform vaginal cancer surgery for women with sarcomas and melanomas, and for cancers that are not treated with radiation therapy.

Surgical procedures for the treatment of vaginal cancers include:

Local excision: Also known as a wide excision, the doctor removes the tumor and some of the surrounding normal tissue (the margin). Nearby lymph nodes may also be removed and examined for signs of cancer cells.

Vaginectomy: Doctors remove the vagina, and in some cases, the surrounding supporting tissue (radical vaginectomy).

Trachelectomy: This procedure removes the cervix while leaving the uterus in place. This may be performed to treat vaginal cancers that occur in the upper portion of the vagina, close to the cervix.

Hysterectomy: In this surgery, the cervix and the uterus are removed. In a radical hysterectomy, all the surrounding tissue (the parametria), the upper part of the vagina and the lymph nodes in the pelvis are removed as well. For young women, the ovaries may be left behind to preserve ovarian function. For older women, they are removed.

Vaginal reconstruction: In cases where the vagina must be removed, tissues from other parts of the body may be used to reconstruct a new vagina.

Pelvic exenteration: During this extensive vaginal cancer surgical procedure, the uterus, cervix, vagina, ovaries, bladder, rectum and nearby lymph nodes may be removed, depending on the extent of the cancer. Tissue from elsewhere in the body is used to reconstruct the vagina, and urine and stool are passed into external bags. This operation is rarely used to treat vaginal cancers but may be necessary if the cancer comes back after radiation therapy, or in cases where radiation therapy cannot be used.


Chemotherapy for vaginal cancer is often combined with radiation therapy or surgery or a combination thereof.

Radiation therapy

We offer two types of radiation for vaginal cancer patients:

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) delivers high doses of radiation to vaginal tumor cells from outside the body, using a variety of machine-based technologies.

High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy (internal radiation) delivers high doses of radiation from implants placed close to, or inside, the tumor(s) in the vagina.

Next topic: What are the facts about vaginal cancer?

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