Chemotherapy for vulval cancer

Chemotherapy is treatment with anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs. This may be used with radiotherapy or by itself to treat vulval cancer.

What is chemotherapy?

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

When chemotherapy is used for vulval cancer

You may have chemotherapy for vulval cancer:

  • To shrink the cancer before surgery or radiotherapy. This is called neo-adjuvant chemotherapy.
  • After surgery to reduce the risk of cancer coming back. This is called adjuvant treatment. You may have radiotherapy at the same time (chemoradiation).
  • With radiotherapy (chemoradiation) as your main treatment if surgery is not possible.
  • To treat the symptoms of advanced cancer that cannot be cured. This is known as palliative treatment.

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 possible side effects.

Medicines can usually control side effects of chemotherapy. Side effects will usually go away when treatment finishes. Not all drugs cause the same side effects, and some people may have very few. Your doctor or nurse will tell you more about what to expect. Always tell them about any side effects you have, as there are usually ways they can help.

Having chemotherapy for vulval cancer

You can usually have chemotherapy as an outpatient. Sometimes you may need to stay in hospital for a few days.

Most drugs are given into a vein (intravenously), but some can be given by mouth as tablets or capsules. Intravenous chemotherapy is a session of treatment which you have 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.

About our information

  • Reviewers

    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

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