Read about stage 3 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.
This stage means that the cancer has spread outside the vagina and reached the side walls of the pelvis. There may also be cancer cells in lymph nodes close to the vagina.
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
Stage 2, 3 and 4A vaginal cancer are all treated in a similar way.
Radiotherapy is the main treatment. You usually have both internal radiotherapy and external 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.
In rare cases, your doctor may suggest that you have an operation to move the bowel out of the radiotherapy treatment area. This is to protect the bowel during radiotherapy and minimise side effects. You would normally only need to have this done in the following situations:
- you need particularly high radiotherapy doses
- you have had surgery to your bowel in the past, which has left you with internal scar tissue called adhesions
- you have a lot of bowel symptoms before starting radiotherapy
You might also have chemotherapy treatment alongside radiotherapy. This enhances the effects of radiotherapy.
Your doctor might recommend surgery (instead of radiotherapy) if you have had previous radiotherapy treatment to the pelvic area. There is a limit to the amount of radiotherapy you can have to any one part of the body. Too much can cause damage to healthy tissues.