March 8, 2022

Treatment options for vulvar cancer

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Your oncologist should customize vulvar cancer treatment to your circumstances

Your vulvar cancer treatment options depend on the type involved, the results of imaging tests and the stage of the cancer. 

You should be treated by a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor who has extra training to evaluate and treat gynecologic cancers.

Your doctor will consider your age, preferences and overall health when talking about treatment options for vulvar cancer. In most cases, the goal of treatment is to cure the cancer. If this isn’t possible, the goal your doctor will work with you to achieve is controlling the cancer and keeping you comfortable. Deciding on the best treatment plan may take some time. Talk with your doctor 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. 

Vulvar cancer treatment options

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 are treated with surgery. 

Systemic treatments are used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled to other parts of the body. Chemotherapy is a systemic treatment when it’s taken pill or injection. Sometimes chemotherapy is used in combination with radiation 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. 
  • 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 reduce the chances that the cancer will come back.
  • Chemotherapy. These are medicines that kill cancer cells. The medicines affect the whole body. Chemo may be used in combination with radiation or alone if the cancer has spread beyond the vulva or comes back after treatment.

There are many ways to use each of these vulvar cancer treatments. Talk with your medical team about what treatment they recommend specifically for you. 

Ask about clinical trials

Researchers always seek new ways to treat cancer. These new, and maybe better, treatments are tested in clinical trials. Before starting treatment, ask your doctor if there are any clinical trials you should consider.

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Vanderbilt Gynecologic Oncology provides expert care for women with cancers affecting the female reproductive system. These experts offer sophisticated, compassionate care with the latest treatments, for even the most complicated diagnoses. Call our team at 615-936-8422.

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