Vulvar Cancer: Treatment Choices

Learning about your treatment options

There are many treatment choices for vulvar cancer. The 1 that's best for you depends on things like:

  • The type of vulvar cancer you have

  • Lab test results

  • Extent of disease (the stage)

  • Your age

  • Your overall health

  • Your personal concerns and preferences, like what side effects you’ll find acceptable.

You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist. This is a healthcare provider who has extra training to diagnose and treat gynecologic cancers.

In most cases, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If this isn’t possible, your healthcare provider will try to control the cancer and manage any problems it causes.

It’s normal to want to learn all you can about vulvar cancer and your treatment choices. You will likely have many questions and concerns. Your healthcare provider is the best person to answer your questions about your treatment choices, how well treatment is expected to work, what the goal is, and what the risks and side effects may be.

Your provider may advise a certain treatment. Or they may offer more than 1, and ask you to decide which you’d like to use. It can be hard to make this decision. It’s important to take the time you need to make the best decision.

Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your choices. You may want to get a second opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. You may also want to involve your partner, family, or friends in this process.

Types of treatment for vulvar cancer

Treatment for vulvar cancer is either local or systemic. You may have both.

Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a certain place in the body. Surgery and radiation are local treatments. Most people with vulvar cancer are treated with surgery.

Systemic treatments destroy or control cancer cells throughout the body. When taken by pill or injection, chemotherapy (chemo) is a systemic treatment.

You may have just 1 treatment or a combination of treatments. They can include:

  • Surgery. The goal of surgery is to take out the tumor and an edge of healthy tissue around it. The surgeon will leave as much healthy tissue behind as possible. This is done so there's less need to change how you pass urine and stool out of your body. There's less of an impact on your sex life, too.

  • Radiation. This treatment uses strong X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used to help shrink the tumor before surgery so it's easier to remove without damaging nearby healthy tissues. It might be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

  • Chemotherapy (chemo). This uses strong medicine that kill cancer cells. The medicines affect the whole body. Chemo may be used if the cancer has spread beyond the vulva or comes back after treatment. Sometimes chemo is given along with radiation treatment to help the radiation work better.

There are many different ways to use each of these treatments. Talk with your healthcare team to get details on how your treatment will be done. Be sure to ask questions so you know what to expect during and after treatment.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Researchers are always looking for new ways to treat cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Taking part in a clinical trial means you get the best treatment available today, and you might also get new treatments that are thought to be even better. Before starting treatment, ask your healthcare provider if there are any clinical trials you should think about.

Talking with your healthcare provider

At first, thinking about treatment choices may seem overwhelming. Talk with your healthcare team and loved ones. Make a list of questions. Consider the benefits and possible side effects of each choice. Discuss your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.

Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Jessica Gotwals BSN MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Date Last Reviewed: 4/1/2022
© 2024 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.