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Surgery

Sometimes, vaginal cancer needs to be removed in an operation. The type of surgery you will have depends on the size and position of the cancer.

It may be possible to just remove the cancer, together with some of the surrounding normal tissue. Depending on the amount removed, the remaining vaginal tissue may be stretched so that you may still be able to have sexual intercourse.

Vaginectomy

Some women may need to have a larger operation that removes all of the vagina (vaginectomy). Sometimes it is possible to make a new vagina (vaginal reconstruction) using tissue from other parts of the body.

Radical hysterectomy

It may also be necessary to remove the uterus (womb), cervix, ovaries and fallopian tubes. This operation is called a radical hysterectomy. During this operation some of the lymph nodes in the pelvis may also be removed. You may have to spend about a week in hospital.

When you wake up from a hysterectomy, you will have several tubes in place. An intravenous drip will administer fluid as well as medication. There may also be one or two tubes in your abdomen to drain away fluid from the operation site and a small plastic tube (catheter) in your bladder to drain away urine. These tubes will usually be removed about three to five days after the operation.

Your doctors, nurses and physiotherapists will advise you on how to move your legs to prevent blood clots forming and help lymph fluid to drain. As soon as you are able, you should get out of bed and walk around.

After any stitches or clips are taken out, you will be able to go home. It may take several weeks before you feel fully recovered from the surgery.

Lymph node dissection (lymphadenectomy)

A surgical procedure in which lymph nodes are removed and checked under a microscope for signs of cancer. If the cancer is in the upper vagina, the pelvic lymph nodes may be removed. If the cancer is in the lower vagina, lymph nodes in the groin may be removed.

Pelvic exenteration

Surgery to remove the lower colon, rectum, and bladder. In women, the cervix, vagina, ovaries, and nearby lymph nodes are also removed. Artificial openings (stoma) are made for urine and stool to flow from the body into a collection bag.