What is chemotherapy?

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. These drugs disrupt the way cancer cells grow and divide, but they also affect normal cells.

It may sometimes be used at the same time as radiotherapy for vulval cancer. This is known as chemoradiation. Giving chemotherapy in combination with radiotherapy helps make the treatment more effective. There are different ways of giving chemoradiation. Your doctors will discuss your treatment plan with you.

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When chemotherapy is used for vulval cancer

Before surgery

You may be offered chemotherapy to help shrink the cancer before an operation. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.

To control the cancer

Chemotherapy is often used to help control vulval cancer that has spread to other parts of the body (advanced or metastatic vulval cancer).

Chemotherapy drugs used for vulval cancer

The main chemotherapy drugs used to treat vulval cancer are:

Other chemotherapy drugs may sometimes be used. Your doctor or specialist nurse will talk to you about the treatment and any potential side effects.

Having chemotherapy for vulval cancer

You usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient. Most drugs are given into a vein (intravenously), but some can be given by mouth as tablets or capsules.

Intravenous chemotherapy is given as a session of treatment over several hours or days. You then have a rest period of a few weeks. This allows your body to recover from any side effects.

The treatment and rest period make up a cycle of treatment. Your cancer specialist will tell you how many cycles of treatment you will have.

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