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Treatments for vulvar cancer
If you have vulvar cancer, your healthcare team will create a treatment plan just for you. It will be based on your health and specific information about the cancer. When deciding which treatments to offer for vulvar cancer, your healthcare team will consider:
- if the cancer has spread to any lymph nodes
- size and location of the tumour
- type of tumour
- your personal preferences and overall health
You may be offered one or more of the following treatments for vulvar cancer.
Surgery is the main treatment for vulvar cancer. The goal of surgery is to remove all of the cancer along with a margin of normal tissue to lower the chance of cancer coming back, while trying to preserve the appearance and function of the vulva.
A wide local excision is done to treat small tumours that have not grown deep into the underlying tissue.
A vulvectomy removes all or part of the vulva and surrounding tissue.
An inguinal lymph node dissection removes the lymph nodes from one or both sides of the groin to see if there is any spread to the lymph node.
A pelvic exenteration is sometimes done if vulvar cancer spreads to other areas in the pelvis. It includes a vulvectomy, removal of lymph nodes and removal of one or more of the following: lower colon, rectum, bladder, uterus, cervix or vagina.
External beam radiation therapy can be used after surgery, with or without chemotherapy. It may also be given to shrink a large tumour before surgery, as the main treatment for women who cannot have surgery or to help relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
Chemotherapy given at the same time as radiation therapy (called chemoradiation) may be given to shrink a large tumour before surgery or to help relieve symptoms of advanced cancer.
If you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment
You may want to consider a type of care to make you feel better without treating the cancer itself. This may be because the cancer treatments don’t work anymore, they’re not likely to improve your condition or they may cause side effects that are hard to cope with. There may also be other reasons why you can’t have or don’t want cancer treatment.
Talk to your healthcare team. They can help you choose care and treatment for advanced cancer.
Follow-up after treatment is an important part of cancer care. You will need to have regular follow-up visits, especially in the first 5 years after treatment has finished. These visits allow your healthcare team to monitor your progress and recovery from treatment.
Talk to your doctor about clinical trials open to women with vulvar cancer in Canada. Clinical trials look at new ways to prevent, find and treat cancer. Find out more about clinical trials.
Questions to ask about treatment
To make the decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about treatment.
I’m extremely grateful to the Canadian Cancer Society for funding my research with an Innovation Grant.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.