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About chemotherapy for vaginal cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Doctors don’t often use chemotherapy on its own for early stage vaginal cancer. You may have chemotherapy in combination with either surgery or radiotherapy. If it is combined with radiotherapy you usually have the chemotherapy once a week while you are having the radiotherapy. 

A number of chemotherapy drugs can treat advanced stage vaginal cancer. You have these drugs as injections into a vein or through a drip (intravenous infusion). You usually have treatment once every 3 or 4 weeks. This makes up a cycle of chemotherapy. Most people have a course of about 6 treatments, or cycles.

Which drugs might you have?

It is most common to have two or more chemotherapy drugs together to treat cancer. But if you are having a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy together, you may only have one drug (cisplatin). This page gives information about the various drugs used for vaginal cancer treatment.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the treating vaginal cancer section.

 

 

What chemotherapy is

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. They work by disrupting the growth of cancer cells. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body.

 

When chemotherapy is used for vaginal cancer

Doctors don’t often use chemotherapy on its own for vaginal cancer. You may have chemotherapy in combination with either surgery or radiotherapy for early stage vaginal cancer.

A number of chemotherapy drugs can be used to treat advanced stage vaginal cancer. You usually have these drugs as injections into a vein or through a drip (intravenous infusion). Some are given as tablets. The drugs circulate in the bloodstream around the body. Various doses and combinations of drugs are being tested. Sometimes your cancer specialist may suggest chemotherapy alone to try to shrink the cancer, slow it down, or relieve symptoms.

With vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) (the precancerous stage) your specialist may suggest a chemotherapy cream containing a drug called fluorouracil. This is called intravaginal chemotherapy. It is not licensed in the UK for vaginal cancer and isn’t used very often. It is only used as part of clinical trials. You are more likely to have surgery or laser treatment.

You can read more about the different stages of vaginal cancer including advanced stage vaginal cancer and vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN). And you can read more about different treatments including radiotherapy, surgery and surgery or laser treatment

 

Which drugs are used to treat vaginal cancer?

If you are having a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy together for early stage cancer, you are likely to have cisplatin as a single drug.

For advanced vaginal cancer It is most common to have two or more chemotherapy drugs together. You usually have treatment once every 3 or 4 weeks with a break afterwards. This makes up a cycle of chemotherapy. Most people have a course of about 6 treatments, or cycles.

There are some chemotherapy drugs that you have weekly. Your own doctor will decide the exact number of treatments you have and which drugs. You may have one or more of the drugs listed here

You can click on the links to find out more about the specific side effects of each drug. And you can read more about cycles of chemotherapy

 

Clinical trials

Your doctor may ask you to take part in a clinical trial. This is because it is important for doctors to find out which treatments work best. The aim of the treatment is to make you feel better. So it is important that the chemotherapy itself does not make you too ill and that you don't have to make too many trips to the hospital. 

So clinical trials look at

  • How well treatments work
  • The side effects they cause
  • Ways of giving treatment to you as an outpatient

You can read more about clinical trials.  There is information about experimental treatments for vaginal cancer on our page about vaginal cancer research. There is also detailed information about side effects of chemotherapy for vaginal cancer on the next page of this section.

 

Dietary or herbal supplements and chemotherapy

We don't know enough about how some nutritional or herbal supplements may interact with chemotherapy. Some could be harmful. It is very important to let your doctors know if you take any supplements.

Talk to your specialist about any other tablets or medicines you take while you are having active treatment. There is information about the safety of herbal, vitamin and diet supplements in the complementary therapies section.

Some studies seem to suggest that fish oil preparations may reduce the effectiveness of chemotherapy drugs. If you are taking or thinking of taking these supplements, talk to your doctor to find out whether they could affect your treatment.

 

More information about chemotherapy

For detailed information about chemotherapy look at the chemotherapy section. It explains

If you would like more information about chemotherapy, contact our cancer information nurses. They would be happy to help.

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Updated: 24 September 2015