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Vulvar Cancer: Treatment Choices

Learning about your treatment options

Your treatment choices depend on the type of vulvar cancer you have, the results of lab tests, and the stage of the cancer. Your healthcare provider will also consider your age, preferences, and overall health when talking about treatment options. You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor 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, then your healthcare provider will try to control the cancer and keep you comfortable.

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, how successful it’s expected to be, what the goal is, and what the risks and side effects may be.

Deciding on the best plan may take some time. Talk with your healthcare provider about how much time you can take to explore your options. You may want to get another opinion before deciding on your treatment plan. This can help boost your confidence in the choices you make. You may also want to involve your family and friends in this process.

Types of treatment for vulvar cancer

Treatment for vulvar cancer is either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control the cancer cells in a certain area. Surgery and radiation are examples of local treatments. Most women with vulvar cancer will be treated with surgery.

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled all over your body. When taken by pill or injection, chemo is a systemic treatment. It’s sometimes used for vulvar cancer. You may have just one treatment or a combination of treatments. They can include:

  • Surgery. This removes the cancer with the goal of keeping as much nearby normal tissue as possible. Over the years, gynecologic oncologists have found ways to remove the cancer while leaving more healthy tissue behind. This means there's less need to change how a woman passes urine and stool out of her body. And there is less of an impact on her sex life than there was in the past.

  • Radiation. This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells. It may be used to help shrink the tumor before surgery. It also may be used after surgery to kill any cancer cells that may have been left behind.

  • Chemotherapy (chemo). This uses medicines 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.

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. Ask questions and know what to expect during and after treatment.

Clinical trials for new treatments

Healthcare providers are always looking for new ways to treat vulvar cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your healthcare provider if there are any clinical trials you should consider. In a clinical trial you can get the best treatment available today. And you may also get the treatments that researchers think work even better.

Talking with your healthcare provider

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

Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kim Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Date Last Reviewed: 9/1/2018
© 2019 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare provider's instructions.
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