Research into vaginal cancer

Researchers in the UK and around the world are looking at better ways to treat vaginal cancer and manage treatment side effects.

It can be more difficult to do research into rare cancers such as vaginal cancer because there are fewer people to take part in them. So, compared to more common cancers there are relatively few trials.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for vaginal cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follows the patients for a time and collects and analyses the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in vaginal cancer.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments have to be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available 
  • they are known to be safe

Research into preventing vaginal cancer

There’s a known link between vaginal cancer and infection with certain types of human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a type of virus that can infect the skin in different parts of the body.

There are tests available that pick up the types of HPV that cause cancer. HPV testing is now part of the national screening programme to prevent cervical cancer. It may also prove useful in preventing vaginal cancer.

Vaccines have been developed to stop people from becoming infected with certain types of the HPV virus.

Research into the treatment of vaginal cancer

There are some clinical trials in the UK looking at treatment for vaginal cancer. Researchers are looking at:

  • vaccines
  • high intensity focussed ultrasound
  • drug treatments


A study is looking at a vaccine called RNA for people with cancer that tested positive for the HPV virus and has come back after treatment. HPV positive cancers can include vaginal cancer.

HPV is a common virus. There are different types of HPV and most don’t cause serious problems. But some types, such as HPV16, can cause changes to cells that can develop into cancer. 

In this trial doctors are looking at a new vaccine called RNA. It has been made in the laboratory to help the immune system recognise and attack HPV16.

The study team wants to find out how well the RNA vaccine works as a treatment. They also want to find out the safest dose and learn more about the side effects.

High intensity focussed ultrasound

A study is looking at using high intensity focused ultrasound (HIFU) to treat cancers that are in the area between the hips (pelvis). This includes vaginal cancers.

High intensity focused ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to kill cancer cells. It is already used in the treatment of prostate cancer.

Researchers think HIFU may help treat other cancers in the pelvis, including vaginal cancer. They want to find out how well it works and if it can help to control symptoms such as pain. 

Drug treatment 

Sometimes vaginal cancer comes back after treatment and spreads to other parts of the body. This is advanced vaginal cancer. A study is looking at using a targeted cancer drug called pembrolizumab to treat a type of cancer called clear cell cancer. Clear cell vaginal cancer is rare. 

Pembrolizumab is a targeted drug called a monoclonal antibody. It targets and blocks a protein called PD-1 on the surface of certain immune cells called T-cells. Blocking PD-1 triggers the immune system cells to find and kill cancer cells.
The main aim of this trial is to find out how well pembrolizumab works as a treatment for advanced clear cell cancers.

In another study, researchers are looking at a drug called nivolumab. Nivolumab is already used to treat some types of cancers. Doctors want to know if this will work for other cancer types, including vaginal cancer. 

Nivolumab is also a type of targeted cancer drug called a monoclonal antibody.

Research into side effects of treatment for vaginal cancer

After treatment to the pelvic area, some people have long term side effects. Trials are looking at ways to reduce or manage these side effects.

Bowel changes 

Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause a thickening of the tissue, making it less stretchy. This is called fibrosis and can cause bowel problems. A study is looking at a combination of a palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline. Researchers want to find out if it can reduce the bowel symptoms caused by radiotherapy.

Doctors developed a tool to identify people who have tummy or bowel problems after radiotherapy treatment. Researchers hope this will help doctors identify people who may need help with symptoms. 

Researchers want to know if an electronic nose can predict long term changes in bowel function after radiotherapy to the pelvis. An electronic nose is a device that can sniff individual smells to identify bacteria types. Researchers use it to identify bacteria from poo samples to see who develops severe bowel symptoms after radiotherapy.

Reporting symptoms 

In one study researchers are looking at a computer based system for people to report treatment side effects. Patients complete questionnaires about how they feel during and after cancer treatment. The researchers want to see if there are benefits to using this system compared to standard care.

Controlling symptoms   

There is a trial looking at how well a type of treatment called high intensity focussed ultrasound can control symptoms of women’s cancer that has come back. It uses high frequency sound waves which deliver a strong beam to a specific part of the cancer and kills some cells. It might help with symptoms such as pain or bleeding.

Research into living with vaginal cancer

Support after treatment

Researchers in one study are looking at how patients cope after their diagnosis and treatment for cancer. They want to find out what their physical and emotional needs are. People complete questionnaires that ask about their treatment and how it affected them and their families. 

The results may help doctors plan how they can best support patients and their families after their treatment.

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