Coping and support
How you respond to your cancer diagnosis is unique. You might want to surround yourself with friends and family, or you may ask for time alone to sort through your feelings. The shock and confusion of your diagnosis may leave you feeling lost and unsure of yourself. To help you cope, try to:
- Learn enough about your cancer to make decisions about your care. Write down the questions to ask at your next doctor appointment. Get a friend or family member to come to appointments with you to take notes. Ask your health care team for further sources of information. The more you know about your condition, the more comfortable you may feel when it comes time to make decisions about your treatment.
Maintain intimacy with your partner. Vaginal cancer treatments are likely to cause side effects that make sexual intimacy more difficult for you and your partner. If treatment makes sex painful or temporarily impossible, try to find new ways of maintaining intimacy.
Spending quality time together and having meaningful conversations are ways to build your emotional intimacy. When you're ready for physical intimacy, take it slowly.
If sexual side effects of your cancer treatment are hurting your relationship with your partner, talk to your doctor. He or she may offer ways to cope with sexual side effects and may refer you to a specialist.
Create a support network. Having friends and family supporting you can be valuable. You may find it helps to talk with someone about your emotions. Other sources of support include social workers and psychologists — ask your doctor for a referral if you feel like you need someone to talk to.
Talk with your pastor, rabbi or other spiritual leader. Other people with cancer can offer a unique perspective and may better understand what you're going through, so consider joining a support group — whether it's in your community or online. Contact the American Cancer Society for more information on support groups.
There is no sure way to prevent vaginal cancer. However, you may reduce your risk if you:
- Undergo regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. You can increase the chance that vaginal cancer is discovered early by having routine pelvic exams and Pap tests. When discovered in its earliest stages, vaginal cancer is more likely to be cured. Discuss with your doctor when to begin these tests and how often to repeat them.
- Ask your doctor about the HPV vaccine. Receiving a vaccination to prevent HPV infection may reduce your risk of vaginal cancer and other HPV-related cancers. Ask your doctor whether an HPV vaccine is appropriate for you.
- Don't smoke. If you smoke, quit. If you don't smoke, don't start. Smoking increases the risk of vaginal cancer.
April 21, 2016
- Niederhuber JE, et al. Cancers of the cervix, vulva, and vagina. In: Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 22, 2015.
- Vaginal cancer treatment (PDQ). National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/types/vaginal/patient/vaginal-treatment-pdq. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.
- Lentz GM, et al. Malignant diseases of the vagina. In: Comprehensive Gynecology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Mosby Elsevier; 2012. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed Dec. 22, 2015.
- Hoffman BL, et al. Vaginal cancer. In: Williams Gynecology. 2nd ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2012. http://accessmedicine.com/. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.
- Pelvic exenteration. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatmentsandsideeffects/physicalsideeffects/sexualsideeffectsinwomen/sexualityforthewoman/sexuality-for-women-with-cancer-tot-pelvic-exenterat. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.
- Taking time: Support for people with cancer. National Cancer Institute. http://www.cancer.gov/publications/patient-education/taking-time. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.
- Karam A, et al. Vaginal cancer. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 21, 2016.