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 general health when making treatment suggestions. You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor 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 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 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, 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. In fact, some insurance companies may require a second opinion. In addition, you may 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 specific 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 chemo. 

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled throughout your whole 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 surrounding normal tissue as possible. Over the years, gynecologic oncologists have been able to use fewer surgery techniques while still being successful. This is because they are able to leave more healthy tissue behind.

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

  • Chemo. This uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

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.

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.