Vaginal cancer diagnosis and treatment has many effects your physical and emotional wellbeing. Some of this is common to most cancer treatments, but some are more specific for vaginal cancers, because many of the treatments affect your sexual functioning.
Also see the Impacted by cancer section for more advice about living with cancer.
Contraception during treatment
If you are premenopausal, have not had a hysterectomy, and are having radiotherapy or chemotherapy, you should use contraception (birth control) to avoid getting pregnant during treatment, because these treatments can harm the unborn baby. Although chemotherapy and radiotherapy reduce fertility, it is still possible for some women to become pregnant while having treatment.
Your doctor may suggest that you wait 2 years after chemotherapy before becoming pregnant. If you have a stoma (an artificial opening into the body created by surgery to act as an exit for body wastes), the effect of the contraceptive pill may change depending on the surgery and type of stoma you have. Discuss what contraception is suitable for you with your surgeon, stomal therapy nurse or gastroenterologist.
Managing physical changes due to vaginal cancer
Women treated for vaginal cancer may experience various physical changes and symptoms.
Physical changes associated with vaginal cancer can be due to the cancer itself or to treatment side effects. Not all women will experience these symptoms.
Talk to your oncologist, GP or a member of your treating team about any symptoms or side effects of treatment.
Lymphoedema is swelling of part of the body, usually the legs or the arms. It may occur after treatment for vaginal cancer if you have had the lymph nodes in your abdomen removed (lymphadenectomy). Women who have had surgery followed by radiotherapy are particularly at risk.
Removal of the nodes may prevent normal draining of the lymph fluid from the legs. As a result, fluid can build up in one or both legs causing swelling. This usually doesn’t occur until some time after treatment.
If you have problems, seek immediate help as symptoms are better managed if treated early. Seek advice from your specialist or nurse.
More information about managing lymphoedema can be found here
Some cancer treatments bring on early menopause. Hormone replacement therapy can help with managing the symptoms of early menopause. The Menopause and breast cancer section has detailed information about early menopause and available treatments that are also relevant to women with fallopian tube cancer. This section also discussed other side effects of early menopause, such as heart disease and osteoporosis.
Living with a stoma
For more information about adapting to life with a stoma, ask your treatment team or contact your local stoma association.