Vulvar Cancer Treatment


The outer part of the female genitals, the vulva consists of the opening of the vagina, the clitoris and the outer and inner lips. Typically, most cancers of the vulva are found on the outer lips and are rarely found in the other areas of the vulva. Approximately 3,500 cancers of the vulva will be diagnosed this year, making it a relatively rare cancer of the female reproductive system.

Treatment Options

It is important to point out that cancers that affect both the vagina and the vulva are actually vulval cancers and should be treated as such. Treatment options for vulvar cancer can include one or more of the following:

Laser Therapy
A high energy light is used in laser therapy to kill and destroy the cancerous tissue on the vulva. This is used mainly to treat early-stage cancers of the vulva.
Topical Therapy
For early stage cancers only, chemotherapy or imiquimod may be applied topically as a cream or lotion, directly onto the vulvar cancer rather than given systemically (through an IV or by a pill).
The most common treatment for vulvar cancer is surgery. Depending on the stage and location of the cancer, several different types of surgeries can take place.
A wide local excision takes place where just the tumor and some surrounding tissue of the vulva are removed. If part of the groin is also removed, this procedure is referred to as a radical local excision.
Additionally, several degrees of a vulvectomy (removal of the vulva) may be performed: a skinning vulvectomy is where only the top skin layer of the vulva is removed; in a simple vulvectomy, the whole vulva is removed; in a modified radical vulvectomy only the part of the vulva that houses the tumor is removed along with some surrounding area; and, in a radical vulvectomy, the whole vulva including the clitoris and surrounding lymph nodes are removed.
Radiation Therapy
Depending on the stage of the cancer, radiation therapy may be given externally to treat vulvar cancer. Sometimes radiation therapy is given along with chemotherapy before surgery to try to reduce the size of tumors diagnosed at a more advanced stage.
It is not clear how effective the use of chemotherapy is in treating cancers of the vulva. However, when it is used, it typically is given in combination with radiation therapy to try to shrink the size of the tumor before surgery.

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