Radiation Therapy for Vaginal Cancer

NYU Langone doctors often use radiation therapy, or high-energy beams that destroy cancer cells, to manage vaginal cancer.

Vaginal tumors that are difficult to surgically remove, either because they are high up in the vaginal canal or near organs such as the bladder or rectum, may be managed with radiation therapy.

Radiation therapy combined with chemotherapy is often used to treat cancer that has grown through the wall of the vagina and spread to nearby tissue in the pelvic area, to organs such as the bladder or rectum, or to nearby lymph nodes.

Radiation therapy may be used after surgery to help destroy any remaining cancer cells. Sometimes radiation therapy is given before surgery to help shrink large tumors.

At NYU Langone, radiation oncologists use the latest technology to deliver highly targeted radiation therapy, tailored to the size, shape, and location of the tumor.

Radiation Therapy Treatment Planning and Guidance

If you receive a diagnosis of vaginal cancer, radiation oncologists may use CT or MRI scans of the vagina and surrounding tissue and organs, in conjunction with computer planning software, to design a personalized treatment plan.

Using these scans, this software creates a three-dimensional image of the tumor and surrounding organs. This allows doctors to determine how best to target the vaginal cancer while sparing healthy tissue.

Image-guided radiation therapy shows the precise location of your organs, which can shift slightly as you breathe or move during treatment. This therapy helps ensure that only the cancer cells are targeted. The technique also allows doctors to track the size and shape of the tumor over several weeks, as radiation therapy begins to shrink the cancer.

External Beam Radiation Therapy

External beam radiation therapy is delivered from outside the body to the tumor, using a machine called a linear accelerator. While you lie on a table, this machine rotates around you, delivering radiation to the tumor from different directions while minimizing radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue.

Depending on the location of the tumor, radiation oncologists may also deliver treatment to nearby lymph nodes in the pelvis or the groin, where cancer may have spread.

External beam radiation therapy is usually given once a day, five days a week, for about six weeks.


For brachytherapy, a radiation oncologist places an applicator containing radioactive beads or pellets into the vagina for several minutes. The applicator is then removed.

Doctors may prescribe brachytherapy alone for tumors that have not grown deeply into the wall of the vagina. For more extensive tumors, brachytherapy may be combined with external beam radiation therapy.

Brachytherapy may be used to manage vaginal cancer over the course of a few days or weeks on an outpatient basis.

Managing Side Effects

NYU Langone radiation oncologists carefully plan radiation therapy to minimize side effects. These include fatigue, nausea, and irritation of the bladder and rectum, which may cause diarrhea or blood in the urine or stool. They may recommend supportive care and integrative health services to help you manage side effects.