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UT Southwestern Medical Center offers a range of treatments for women with vaginal cancer. Our gynecologic oncologists are the most experienced in the region and will handle each patient’s care with compassion and skill. 

As the only National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center in North Texas, we deliver the best cancer care available today and push to discover new treatments. NCI designation means we offer patients the ability to participate in the broadest possible range of clinical trials, with access to potential therapies not available at other facilities.

Individualized Treatment Plans for Every Stage of Life

Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that develops in the vagina (birth canal). About 3,000 cases of vaginal cancer are diagnosed each year in the U.S., with most cases occurring in patients who are 60 years old or older. Women exposed to the drug DES (diethylstilbestrol) as fetuses are at particularly high risk for developing vaginal cancer. 

At UT Southwestern, our gynecologic cancer specialists work with each patient to establish an individualized treatment plan that’s best for that patient’s stage of life. Our patients have one main doctor who directs all aspects of their vaginal cancer care, such as surgical treatment, medication therapies, and follow-up care.

Types of Vaginal Cancer

The most common type of vaginal cancer is squamous cell carcinoma, which originates in the smooth tissue that lines the vagina.

Adenocarcinoma, which arises in the fluid-producing cells in the vaginal lining, is very rare. 

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Early vaginal cancer might not exhibit any symptoms. As it progresses, patients might experience:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding (for example, after intercourse or after menopause)
  • Watery vaginal discharge
  • A lump or mass in the vagina
  • Painful urination
  • Constipation
  • Pelvic pain

To diagnose vaginal cancer, an Ob/Gyn can perform a pelvic exam, conduct a colposcopy to collect a tissue sample to be evaluated by a pathologist, or order blood work.

Treatments for Vaginal Cancer

Treatment for vaginal cancer depends on its characteristics and stage and the patient’s overall health, preferences, and goals. Options include:

  • Radiation therapy: External-beam radiation therapy can be used along with chemotherapy to treat more advanced cancers or shrink them so they can be removed with surgery. Brachytherapy is another common treatment, which involves placing radioactive implants inside the vagina to administer a higher dose of radiation to a smaller area than is possible with external radiation treatment.
  • Surgery: Surgical procedures can range from relatively minor to fairly extensive, depending on how localized the cancer is. Using the latest advancements in surgical technologies and tools, UT Southwestern offers a growing number of minimally invasive and laparoscopic techniques for surgically treating vaginal cancer in appropriate patients. Surgeries for vaginal cancer include local excision of the cancer, vaginectomy, trachelectomy, hysterectomy, lymph node dissection, pelvic exenteration, and vaginal reconstruction.
  • Chemotherapy: As the main treatment for vaginal cancer that has spread, chemotherapy is used to shrink tumors before surgery, often in conjunction with radiation therapy. 

Support Services

To help patients and their families through the cancer journey, we provide a number of support services, such as cancer psychology, oncology nutrition, social work, transitional care coordination, spiritual support, and integrative therapy.

Clinical Trials

Many patients qualify to participate in the gynecologic cancer-related clinical trials conducted at UT Southwestern to gain access to new medical treatments and further research of the disease. Patients should speak with their doctors about vaginal cancer clinical trials.