Read about stage 1 vaginal cancer and how it might be treated.
Different staging systems
There are different ways of staging vaginal cancers. Most gynaecologists prefer to use the FIGO system, developed by the International Federation of Gynaecology and Obstetrics.
The TNM staging system is starting to be used more often. TNM stands for Tumour, Node, Metastasis:
- T describes the size of the tumour (cancer)
- N describes whether there are any cancer cells in the lymph nodes
- M describes whether the cancer has spread to a different part of the body
There are 4 stages. Stage 1 is the earliest stage and stage 4 is the most advanced stage.
In this stage, the cancer has started to grow into the wall of the vagina but has not spread further.
The treatment that is best for you will depend on:
- the type of vaginal cancer you have
- the stage of your cancer
- which part of your vagina is affected by cancer
- any previous treatment you might have already had
- your general health
Radiotherapy is the first treatment for many women with squamous cell or adenocarcinoma stage 1 vaginal cancers.
There are two different ways of having radiotherapy, external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy. External beam radiotherapy directs radiation at a cancer from a machine outside of the body. Internal radiotherapy uses a radioactive source or implant that is placed inside the vagina.
You usually have internal radiotherapy to treat small tumours on the inner lining of the vagina. You might have external radiotherapy as well as internal treatment if the tumour is in the deeper vaginal tissues. You may also have chemotherapy treatment alongside radiotherapy.
Some women with stage 1 cancer have surgery. If the cancer is on the upper part of your vagina it is sometimes necessary to remove the womb. This operation is called a radical hysterectomy. You have lymph nodes removed from around the womb and part of the vagina taken away (radical partial vaginectomy).
You might need to have the whole of your vagina removed if the cancer is in the lower or middle part of your vagina. This operation is a total vaginectomy. Your surgeon may then surgically make a new vagina for you. This is called vaginal reconstruction.
Then you may have external radiotherapy after surgery to try to make sure that any cancer cells left behind are destroyed.