Start by making an appointment with your family doctor or a gynecologist if you have any signs or symptoms that worry you. If it's determined that you have vaginal cancer, you'll likely be referred to a doctor who specializes in cancers of the female reproductive system (gynecologic oncologist).
Because appointments can be brief and there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well-prepared. Here's some information to help you get ready, and what you can expect from your doctor.
What you can do
- Write down any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
- Write down key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
- Make a list of all medications, vitamins or supplements that you're taking.
- Ask a family member or friend to come with you. Sometimes it can be difficult to absorb all the information provided during an appointment. Someone who accompanies you may remember something that you missed or forgot.
- Write down questions to ask your doctor.
Your time with your doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions ahead of time can help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For vaginal cancer, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- What's the most likely cause of my symptoms?
- Are there any other possible causes for my symptoms?
- What kinds of tests do I need?
- What types of treatments are available? What kinds of side effects can I expect from each treatment? How will these treatments affect my sexuality?
- What do you think is the best course of action for me?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach that you're suggesting?
- I have these other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
- Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
- Has my cancer spread? What stage is it?
- What's my prognosis?
- Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
- Are there brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
In addition to the questions that you've prepared in advance, don't hesitate to ask questions as they occur to you during your appointment.
What to expect from your doctor
Your doctor will likely have a number of questions for you. If you're ready to answer them, it may help make time for additional questions you may have. Your doctor may ask:
- When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
- Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
- How severe are your symptoms?
- What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
- What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
- Do you know if your mother took DES when she was pregnant with you?
- Do you have any personal history of cancer?
- Have you ever been told you have HPV?
- Have you ever had an abnormal Pap test?
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.