Our Treatment Approach
At MD Anderson, a team of nationally known experts concentrates on giving you the most-advanced treatments for vulvar cancer. Consideration for your quality of life is always a priority. For this reason, we focus on therapies that have the least impact on your body, yet target the cancer with the most-advanced methods.
Our physicians are at the forefront of pioneering less radical approaches, including sentinel node biopsy procedures. Research done here has helped the standard care for vulvar cancer evolve into less-radical surgery combined with other therapies, including chemotherapy and radiation.
MD Anderson treats more women each year with this complex cancer than most oncologists in the nation. This gives us a level of experience and expertise that may lead to a higher chance for successful treatment in many cases.
And we’re constantly researching newer, safe, more-advanced vulvar cancer treatments. This translates to a number of clinical trials.
Our Vulvar Cancer Treatments
If you are diagnosed with vulvar cancer, your doctor will discuss the best options to treat it. This depends on several factors, including:
- The type and stage of the cancer
- Your overall health
- Your age
- Your preferences
Your treatment for vulvar cancer at MD Anderson will be customized to your particular needs. One or more of the following therapies may be recommended to treat the cancer or help relieve symptoms.
Vulvar cancer treatment usually includes surgery. Like all surgeries, vulvar cancer surgery is most successful when done by a specialist with a great deal of experience in the procedure.
MD Anderson surgeons are among the most skilled and recognized in the world. They perform a large number of surgeries for vulvar cancer each year, using the least-invasive and most-advanced techniques.
The main types of surgery for vulvar cancer include the following:
Laser surgery: Lasers may be used to treat precancerous changes. Abnormal cells are burned off with a laser beam. Lasers are not used for invasive vulvar cancer.
Excision: The cancer and about a ½ inch of skin on each side of it are removed.
Vulvectomy: All or part of the vulva is removed.
Pelvic exenteration: In this complex surgery, the vulva and lymph nodes in the pelvis are removed. Depending on how far the cancer has spread, the lower colon, rectum, bladder, uterus, cervix and/or vagina may be removed.
If the bladder is removed, the surgeon will make a new way for your body to store and get rid of urine. It may be one of the following:
- Urostomy, which requires you to drain urine from a small opening
- A small plastic bag worn on the abdomen into which urine drains
If the rectum and lower colon are removed, the surgeon may be able to reconnect the remaining parts of the colon. If not, the colon is attached to the abdominal wall. Then feces pass through a colostomy (small opening on the outside of the body) into a small plastic bag on the front of the abdomen.
Inguinal lymph node dissection: Lymph nodes on one or both sides of the groin area are removed.
Sentinel lymph node biopsy: The surgeon removes the lymph nodes closest to they cancer and looks at them under a microscope. If the cells do not contain cancer, no more lymph nodes are removed. If the cells do contain cancer, other lymph nodes in the area will be removed.
This type of treatment may be used in precancerous vulvar cell changes. Medicine is applied to the growth. Drugs used include:
- Fluorouracil (5-FU), a chemotherapy drug
MD Anderson offers the most up-to-date and advanced chemotherapy options for vulvar cancer.
Radiation therapy sometimes may be given with chemotherapy to help make the cancer smaller before surgery. It also may be used to treat lymph nodes.
New radiation therapy techniques and remarkable skill allow MD Anderson doctors to target tumors more precisely, delivering the maximum amount of radiation with the least damage to healthy cells.
Our Vulvar Cancer Clinical Trials
Because of its status as one of the world’s premier cancer centers, MD Anderson participates in clinical trials (research studies) of investigational therapies for vulvar cancer.