Vulvar Cancer

Treatment

There are vulvar cancer treatments for all patients. Three treatment options are used:

  • surgery (taking out the cancer in an operation)

  • radiation therapy (using high-dose x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells)

  • chemotherapy (using drugs to kill cancer cells)

Surgery is the most common of vulvar cancer treaments. A doctor may take out the cancer using one of the following operations:

  • Wide local excision takes out the cancer and some of the normal tissue around the cancer.

  • Radical local excision takes out the cancer and a larger portion of normal tissue around the cancer. Lymph nodes may also be removed.

  • Laser surgery uses a narrow beam of light to remove cancer cells.

  • Skinning vulvectomy takes out only the skin of the vulva that contains the cancer.

  • Simple vulvectomy takes out the entire vulva, but no lymph nodes.

  • Partial vulvectomy takes out less than the entire vulva.

  • Radical vulvectomy takes out the entire vulva. The lymph nodes around it are usually removed as well.

  • If the cancer has spread outside the vulva and the other female organs, the doctor may take out the lower colon, rectum, or bladder (depending on where the cancer has spread) along with the cervix, uterus, and vagina (pelvic exenteration).

A patient may need to have skin from another part of the body added (grafted) and plastic surgery to make an artificial vulva or vagina after these operations.

Radiation therapy uses x-rays or other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation may come from a machine outside the body (external radiation) or from putting materials that contain radiation through thin plastic tubes into the area where the cancer cells are found (internal radiation). Radiation may be used alone or before or after surgery.

Chemotherapy is a treatment option that uses drugs to kill cancer cells. Drugs may be given by mouth, or they may be put into the body by a needle in the vein or muscle. Chemotherapy is called systemic treatment because the drug enters the bloodstream, travels through the body, and can kill cancer cells throughout the body.

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