Purpose: To evaluate outcome and describe clinical treatment guidelines for patients with primary squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina treated with definitive radiation therapy.
Methods and materials: Between 1970 and 2000, a total of 193 patients were treated with definitive radiation therapy for squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina at The University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center. The patients' medical records were reviewed to obtain information about patient, tumor, and treatment characteristics, as well as outcome and patterns of recurrence. Surviving patients were followed for a median of 137 months. Survival rates were calculated using the Kaplan-Meier method, with differences assessed using log-rank tests.
Results: Disease-specific survival (DSS) and pelvic disease control rates correlated with International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO) stage and tumor size. At 5 years, DSS rates were 85% for the 50 patients with Stage I, 78% for the 97 patients with Stage II, and 58% for the 46 patients with Stage III-IVA disease (p = 0.0013). Five-year DSS rates were 82% and 60% for patients with tumors < or =4 cm or >4 cm, respectively (p = 0.0001). At 5 years, pelvic disease control rates were 86% for Stage I, 84% for Stage II, and 71% for Stage III-IVA (p = 0.027). The predominant mode of relapse after definitive radiation therapy was local-regional (68% and 83%, respectively, for patients with stages I-II or III-IVA disease). The incidence of major complications was correlated with FIGO stage; at 5 years, the rates of major complications were 4% for Stage I, 9% for Stage II, and 21% for Stage III-IVA (p < 0.01).
Conclusions: Excellent outcomes can be achieved with definitive radiation therapy for invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the vagina. However, to achieve these results, treatment must be individualized according to the site and size of the tumor at presentation and the response to initial external-beam radiation therapy. Brachytherapy plays an important role in the treatment of many vaginal cancers but should be carefully selected and applied to obtain optimal coverage of the target volume.