Our Approach to Vulvar Cancer Treatment
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.
Treatment at MD Anderson
Vulvar cancer is treated in our Gynecologic Oncology Center.
MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials offering
promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.
Find the latest news and information about vulvar cancer in our
Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news
releases and more.
When I was first diagnosed with vulvar cancer, I wasn't sure what journey lie
ahead of me. So many decisions to make.
When my doctor, Patricia Eifel, M.D., laid out my radiation treatment plan, it seemed rather long. But I thought I could do it. Then she decided to add chemotherapy once a week as well. So, on Mondays, I got radiation in the morning and chemo for five hours in the afternoon. Mondays were very long days.
Stressing over my vulvar cancer treatment
About three weeks into my treatments, I began to feel agitated and began to suffer from vulvar cancer treatment side effects. I didn't want to have cancer. I didn't want chemo and the weakness and nausea that go with it.
I didn't want the endless IV insertions. I have small veins anyway and it was painful to find one. They didn't give me a port because I was scheduled for only six chemo cycles.
I didn't want the radiation burns that began to appear. I didn't
want the pain and suffering. I'm not good at it. I was stressed and
fought internally about this whole thing. It was harder than I'd
imagined it would be.
Accepting my vulvar cancer treatment
But one day in the hospital I had an epiphany. Fighting against each painful step of my vulvar cancer treatment was not helping me. It was hurting my healing. I had to somehow come to terms with what was happening to me and make peace with it.
I had to accept that there were things happening that I didn't want to happen and I had to accept it. If I didn't surrender to this painful treatment, I would surely lose my life. It's a tough place to be. Get treatment or die. It was that simple. I began to surrender in my mind and heart to treatment and remind myself that this would stop the growth of the vulvar cancer if I could just endure it.
Fight the cancer, not the treatment
A peace came over me as I let go. It was time to emotionally get in step with my vulvar cancer treatment. It made a huge difference. I had vulvar cancer. I was having vulvar cancer treatment. It sucked.
I also got a digestive tract infection during treatment, which
complicated everything. My colon will never be the same. But that's
part of the journey.
Fight the cancer, not your treatment. Make peace with it and it can save your sanity and stress level. Save all that fight for the recovery.
I am now one-year cancer-free and am grateful that I endured through the treatment. Every day is a blessing, and I am so grateful to be here to fight another day!