What to Know About Your Treatment Options for Vulvar Cancer

Your treatment choices depend on the type of vulvar cancer you have, the results of certain lab tests, and the stage of the cancer. Your doctor will also consider your age and general health when making recommendations about treatment. You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist. This is a specialist who has extra training to diagnose and treat gynecologic cancers. The goal of treatment is to cure you, which is possible in most cases. If it is not possible, then your doctor will try to control the cancer for as long as possible and keep you comfortable. It's normal to want to learn all you can about vulvar cancer and your treatment choices. You probably have many questions and concerns. Your doctor is the best person to answer your questions about your treatment, how successful it is expected to be, and what the risks and side effects may be.

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. Some will need additional radiation or chemotherapy. Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled throughout the entire body. When taken by pill or injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment sometimes used for vulvar cancer. You may have just one treatment or a combination of these treatments:

  • Surgery. This removes the cancer with the goal of keeping as much surrounding normal tissue as possible. Over the years, gynecologic oncologists have been able to use less radical surgical techniques while maintaining the healing potential of the surgery.

  • Radiation. This treatment uses high-energy X-rays to kill cancer cells or shrink the tumor before surgery.

  • Chemotherapy. This uses anticancer drugs to kill cancer cells.

Doctors are always looking for new ways to treat vulvar cancer. These new methods are tested in clinical trials. Before beginning treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.