Surgery for vaginal cancer
Surgery may be used for small cancers found in the lining of the vagina. A gynaecological oncologist will try to remove all of the cancer along with some of the surrounding healthy tissue (called a margin). Some lymph nodes in your pelvis or groin may also be removed, depending on the stage of the cancer.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery or call 13 11 20.
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Types of vaginal surgery
There are several different operations for vaginal cancer. The type of surgery recommended for you depends on the location of the tumour and how far it has spread. Your gynaecological oncologist will talk to you about the risks and complications of your surgery, as well as possible side effects.
|wide local excision (partial vaginectomy)||The surgeon cuts out the cancer and a margin. Only the affected part of the vagina is removed.|
|total vaginectomy||The whole vagina is removed.|
|radical vaginectomy||The whole vagina and surrounding tissue are removed.|
|hysterectomy||The uterus and cervix are removed. Your gynaecological oncologist will let you know if it is also necessary to remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes. If you are premenopausal, removing your ovaries will bring on menopause.|
|lymph node surgery||Lymph nodes in the pelvis or groin may be removed to check for the spread of cancer. This is called a lymphadenectomy (lymph node dissection).|
|reconstructive surgery||If the entire vagina is removed, in some cases a reconstructive (plastic) surgeon can make a new vagina using skin and muscle from other parts of your body. This is called vaginal reconstruction or formation of a neovagina.|
Recovery after surgery
Your recovery time will depend on the type of surgery you had and your general health. It is common to be in hospital for a few days to a week.
You will be given pain medicine to control any pain. Do not put anything into your vagina after surgery until your doctor says the area is healed (usually 6–8 weeks). This includes tampons and menstrual cups. You can expect some light vaginal bleeding, which should stop within 2 weeks.
For more on this, see our general section on Recovery after surgery.
Taking care of yourself at home
You will be given advice about a range of issues before you go home. The following information is a general overview of what to expect.
Wound care – Your doctors and nurse will give you instructions about how to look after the wound. If there is any redness, swelling, wound discharge or unusual smell, contact your doctor.
Rest – You will need to take things easy and get plenty of rest in the first week. Avoid sitting for long periods of time if it is uncomfortable, or try sitting on a pillow or 2 rolled towels placed under the buttocks.
Exercise – Check with your treatment team about when you can start doing your regular activities. You may not be able to lift anything heavy, but gentle exercise, such as walking, can help speed up recovery. Because of the risk of infection, avoid swimming until your doctor says you can.
Emotions – If part of your genital area is removed, you may feel a sense of loss and grief. It may help to talk about how you are coping with someone you trust or seek professional support.
Sex – Sexual activity needs to be avoided for about 6–8 weeks after surgery, or longer if reconstructive surgery was performed. Ask your doctor when you can restart sexual activity, and explore other ways you and your partner can be intimate.
Driving – You will need to avoid driving after the surgery until your wound has healed and you are no longer in pain. Discuss this issue with your doctor. Check with your car insurer for any restrictions about driving after surgery.
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Gemma Busuttil, Radiation Therapist, Crown Princess Mary Cancer Centre, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Ming-Yin Lin, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Lisa Mackenzie, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; Anne Mellon, CNC – Gynaecological Oncology, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Archana Rao, Gynaecological Oncologist, Senior Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Angela Steenholdt, Consumer; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD.
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