Research into vaginal cancer

Researchers around the world are looking at better ways to treat vaginal cancer and manage treatment side effects.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for vaginal cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments have to be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available 
  • they are known to be safe

Preventing vaginal cancer

There’s a known link between vaginal cancer and infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV).

There are tests available which pick up the types of human papilloma virus that cause cancer. HPV testing is now part of the national screening programme to prevent cervical cancer. It may also prove useful in preventing vaginal cancer.

Vaccines have been developed to stop people from becoming infected with the HPV virus.

Vaccines to treat vaginal cancer that has come back

Doctors are looking at a new vaccine called RNA for women with vaginal cancer that’s come back. It has been made in the laboratory to help the immune system to recognise and attack a type of virus called HPV16. This is a type of human papilloma virus (HPV)  which can cause cell changes that can develop into cancer.

This type of treatment is highly experimental. At the moment, cancer vaccines are still largely unproven, and they’re available only in clinical trials. Doctors want to find the highest safe dose of RNA vaccine and learn about the side effects as well as finding out how well the RNA vaccine works as a treatment.

Treatment side effects

After treatment to the pelvic area, some people can have long term side effects. Trials are looking at ways to reduce or manage these side effects.

Bowel changes

Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause a thickening of the tissue, making it less stretchy. This is called fibrosis and can cause bowel problems. Doctors want to find out if a combination of palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline can reduce the bowel symptoms caused by pelvic radiotherapy.

Doctors are developing a tool to identify people who have tummy or bowel problems following radiotherapy treatment. The researchers hope that the study results will help doctors to identify people who may need help with symptoms after pelvic radiotherapy.

Researchers want to know if an electronic nose can predict long term changes in bowel function after radiotherapy to the pelvis. An electronic nose is a device that can sniff individual smells to identify bacteria types. Researchers use it to identify bacteria from patient poo samples, to see who develops severe bowel symptoms as a long term problem following radiotherapy.

Reporting symptoms

Researchers are looking at a computer based system for people to report treatment side effects on line. Patients complete questionnaires about how they feel during and after cancer treatment. The researchers want to see if there are benefits to using this system compared to standard care.

Living with vaginal cancer


Researchers have been looking at support for women with vaginal cancer. Women in one group were contacted by a woman who had similar treatment, and had special training in giving support. This is called peer support.

The study found that most patients and those giving peer support described benefits from the programme. It helped people feel less alone and more confident about coming through their cancer experience. Many said they had less anxiety and anger, and an increased sense of wellbeing. The supporters also found the process helpful and said it turned a negative experience of cancer into a positive one.

Controlling symptoms

Researchers are looking at how well a type of treatment called HIFU can control symptoms of women’s cancer that has come back. HIFU stands for high intensity focused ultrasound. It uses high frequency sound waves which deliver a strong beam to a specific part of the cancer and kills some cells. It might help with symptoms such as pain or bleeding.


Following treatment you might have physical or emotional difficulties which can affect your health and quality of life. Researchers want to know if offering 2 planned rehabilitation sessions can help women return to as normal life as possible. At the moment doctors refer people to the rehabilitation services when a problem arises.

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