How is vulvar cancer treated?
General treatment information
After the stage of your vulvar cancer has been established, your cancer care team will recommend a treatment strategy. Think about your options without feeling rushed. If there is anything you do not understand, ask to have it explained again.
The choice of treatment depends largely on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis, but other factors can play a part in choosing the best treatment plan, such as your age, your general health, your individual circumstances, and your preferences. Be sure you understand all the risks and side effects of the various therapies before making a decision.
You may want to get a second opinion. This can provide more information and help you feel confident about the treatment plan you choose. Some insurance companies require a second opinion before they will pay for treatments.
Depending on the type and stage of your vulvar cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment. Doctors on your cancer treatment team may include:
- A gynecologist: a doctor who specializes in diseases of the female reproductive tract
- A gynecologic oncologist: a doctor who specializes in treating cancers of the female reproductive system (including surgery and chemotherapy)
- A radiation oncologist: a doctor who uses radiation to treat cancer
- A medical oncologist: a doctor who uses chemotherapy and other medicines to treat cancer
Many other specialists may be involved in your care as well, including nurse practitioners, nurses, psychologists, social workers, rehabilitation specialists, and other health professionals.
The 3 main types of treatment used for patients with vulvar cancer are
Vulvar pre-cancers (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or VIN) can also be treated with topical therapy.
For information about some of the most common approaches used based on the type of vulvar cancer, see the sections “Treatment options for squamous cell vulvar cancer by stage,” “Treatment of vulvar adenocarcinoma,” and “Treatment of vulvar melanoma.”
Thinking about taking part in a clinical trial
Clinical trials are carefully controlled research studies that are done to get a closer look at promising new treatments or procedures. Clinical trials are one way to get state-of-the art cancer treatment. In some cases, they may be the only way to get access to newer treatments. They are also the best way for doctors to learn better methods to treat cancer. Still, they are not right for everyone.
If you would like to learn more about clinical trials that might be right for you, start by asking your doctor if your clinic or hospital conducts clinical trials. You can also call our clinical trials matching service at 1-800-303-5691 for a list of studies that meet your medical needs, or see the Clinical Trials section on our website to learn more.
Considering complementary and alternative methods
You may hear about alternative or complementary methods that your doctor hasn’t mentioned to treat your cancer or relieve symptoms. These methods can include vitamins, herbs, and special diets, or other methods such as acupuncture or massage, to name a few.
Complementary methods refer to treatments that are used along with your regular medical care. Alternative treatments are used instead of a doctor’s medical treatment. Although some of these methods might be helpful in relieving symptoms or helping you feel better, many have not been proven to work. Some might even be dangerous.
Be sure to talk to your cancer care team about any method you are thinking about using. They can help you learn what is known (or not known) about the method, which can help you make an informed decision. See the Complementary and Alternative Medicine section of our website to learn more.
Help getting through cancer treatment
Your cancer care team will be your first source of information and support, but there are other resources for help when you need it. Hospital- or clinic-based support services are an important part of your care. These might include nursing or social work services, financial aid, nutritional advice, rehab, or spiritual help.
The American Cancer Society also has programs and services – including rides to treatment, lodging, support groups, and more – to help you get through treatment. Call our National Cancer Information Center at 1-800-227-2345 and speak with one of our trained specialists on call 24 hours a day, every day.
It is important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs.
It’s also very important to ask questions if there is anything you’re not sure about. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about vulvar cancer?”
Last Medical Review: 07/02/2014
Last Revised: 02/16/2016