Vaginal cancer is probably the least common cancer we take care of in the gynecologic oncology department at UAMS. It’s usually what we call a “squamous cell” cancer. That means it is a cancer of the cells that line the vagina. The reason why it’s the least common is that it has to be unique to the vagina to be called vaginal cancer.
Dr. Alexander “Sandy” Burnett is a gynecologic oncologist who treats cancers like ovarian cancer and endometrial cancer at UAMS. Here, he explains the basic facts about vaginal cancer.
Who is at risk for vaginal cancer, and what are the treatment options?
The typical person who would develop this would be an elderly woman. Probably related to a viral infection like HPV, which we talk about with most of our cancers. The treatment is typically radiation therapy.
The advantage of a place like UAMS is that they have very good radiation oncology in terms of implants. Implants are a real art form. What that means is that when you receive radiation, you’ll typically receive what I’ll call “external beam,” which is like sitting on an x-ray table. It’s done once a day, five days a week, for four or five weeks.
After that, you want to deliver radiation directly to the tumor. So that would be some sort of implant, in this case in the vagina, that delivers a much higher dose of radiation directly to the vagina that is most often curative. As I say, it’s an art form, and we have a lot of patients with other types of cancers who will receive their external beam elsewhere in the state but will come here to UAMS for their internal radiation therapy.
The doctors and treatments available through UAMS radiation oncology are the best here. Most commonly, one treats vaginal cancer with radiation, and usually, we have very good success with that.