Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer


What Is Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer?

Vaginal and vulvar cancers occur when cells in the vagina or external genitals (vulva) begin to grow out of control. While these cancers are not common, the human papillomavirus (HPV) is the known cause for at least half of the cases each year. HPV is also linked to cervical cancer.

Your Aurora provider can provide the HPV vaccine along with regular Pap smears and gynecological exams to help reduce your risk for these types of cancers. If needed, our surgeons offer laparoscopy, with or without robotic assistance.


Symptoms of Vulvar & Vaginal Cancer

Symptoms associated with vaginal and vulvar cancer may be similar to those of a different condition. Schedule a visit with your OB-GYN to identify what is causing the symptoms and seek treatment.

Vulvar and vaginal cancer symptoms may include:

  • Pelvic pain or pain during intercourse
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • A lump or bump in the vagina or on the vulva
  • Itching or changes to the vulvar skin color or texture


How We Diagnose Vulvar & Vaginal Cancer

If you have any of the above symptoms, schedule a visit with your Aurora Health Care OB-GYN. They will discuss your personal and family medical history with you to determine if you have any risk factors for these cancers.

Next, the doctor will perform a Pap smear and gynecological exam to rule out other causes for the cancer symptoms. Your OB-GYN may want you to undergo certain tests, or they may refer you to a gynecologic cancer specialist for testing, such as:

  • Biopsy to collect cells which are then examined under a microscope to check for the presence of vulvar or vaginal cancer
  • Colposcopy to examine the surface of the cervix with a special viewing scope with magnifying lenses

We may also use these tests to determine if cancer has spread:

  • Cystoscopy or proctoscopy checks to see if cancer has spread to the urethra, bladder or rectum. 
  • CT (computed tomography scan) confirms the presence of a tumor. It can also show the location and size and whether cancer has spread to nearby tissues or organs.
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) can help doctors see whether a tumor is cancerous.
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans are combined with the injection of a specific dye into a vein. The scan identifies cancer cells that have absorbed the dye.
  • Chest X-ray can show whether cancer has spread to the lungs.

Treatment Options

Treatment for Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer

Your treatment plan will depend on the diagnosis and your overall health, as well as whether you have or want to have children. Your doctor will discuss the course of treatment that best suits your needs.

Generally, treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy or chemotherapy. Depending on your individual situation, your cancer specialists may recommend surgery followed by chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy to destroy additional cancer cells. In some cases, we may use chemotherapy or radiation to shrink your tumor before surgery.

Surgical options to treat uterine cancer include:

Laser surgery

The surgeon uses heat from an energy beam directed to the cancer site to destroy abnormal cells.

Tumor excision

Using tiny incisions, we insert special surgical instruments to remove the cancer and surrounding tissue, if cancer has spread there.


This minimally invasive procedure surgically removes part or all of the vagina and sometimes the surrounding tissue, if affected by cancer.

Vaginal hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus)

The surgeon makes a small incision at the top of the vagina to remove the uterus and sometimes other reproductive organs, if cancer has spread to them.

Open surgery

An incision in your abdomen allows:

  • Simple hysterectomy to remove the uterus and cervix
  • Total hysterectomy to remove the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes and ovaries
  • Radical hysterectomy to remove the uterus, cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries and tissue around the uterus and cervix


Your surgeon will remove some of the lymph nodes in your pelvis and abdomen and have them examined under a microscope to see if the cancer has spread.

Robotic surgery

This minimally invasive gynecologic procedure uses robotic arms along with magnified views and the surgeon's skills to perform a hysterectomy or vaginectomy. Learn more about laparoscopy and robotic surgery.

Nonsurgical treatments for uterine cancer include:

  • External beam radiation, which uses a special machine to send beams of high-energy X-rays to target and destroy cancer cells. Your cancer specialist may recommend radiation therapy by itself or with surgery. 
  • Brachytherapy, which is a type of radiation therapy that uses small amounts of radioactive material inserted into or around the cancer, typically through your vagina. It is more targeted, so it affects less healthy tissue than external beam radiation. 
  • Chemotherapy, which uses pills by mouth or injections through a vein. Chemotherapy drugs travel through your whole body to help control the spread of vulvar or vaginal cancer.

What to Expect

What to Expect After Treatment for Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer

Cancer treatments may affect your ability to get pregnant or deliver a baby. Talk to your doctor if preserving fertility is important to you. He or she will recommend a fertility evaluation and discuss options that may help you conceive and/or carry a child after treatment.

Our skilled surgeons can reconstruct the vagina after it has been removed to allow women to have intercourse. They reconstruct the vagina from skin or tissue taken from elsewhere in the body.

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