About treatment for vulval cancer

Your treatment plan for vulval cancer (also called vulvar cancer) is based on:

  • the type of vulval cancer
  • the stage and grade of the cancer
  • your general health
  • your personal preferences.

Before you have any cancer treatment, your doctor will explain its aims and possible side effects. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. A team of specialists meet to talk about the best treatment options for you. They are called a multidisciplinary team (MDT).

Your MDT uses national treatment guidelines to decide the most suitable treatment for you. Even so, you may want another medical opinion. If you feel it will be helpful, you can ask either your specialist or GP to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion

You may be offered treatment as part of a clinical trial.

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. We're here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

Surgery for vulval cancer

If surgery is possible, this is usually the main treatment. The aim is to completely remove the cancer. There are different operations to treat cancer of the vulva, depending on the size and position of the cancer.

Your surgeon will talk with you about your operation and what it will involve. They will also explain what to expect before and after surgery.

Radiotherapy for vulval cancer

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays, such as x-rays, to treat cancer cells. You may have radiotherapy:

  • before surgery – to try to shrink the cancer and make a smaller operation possible
  • after surgery – to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back
  • if you cannot have surgery
  • if vulval cancer has come back or spread.

If the cancer is advanced, the aim of radiotherapy is often to improve your quality of life by shrinking the tumour and reducing symptoms. This is known as palliative radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy for vulval cancer

Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. Cytotoxic means toxic to cells. You may have chemotherapy:

  • to shrink the cancer before surgery or radiotherapy.
  • after surgery to reduce the risk of cancer coming back.
  • if you cannot have surgery.
  • to treat the symptoms of advanced cancer that cannot be cured. This is known as palliative treatment.

Chemoradiation for vulval cancer

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy can be given separately or together as part of your main treatment for vulval cancer. When given together this is called chemoradiation.

Immunotherapy for vulval cancer

Immunotherapy drugs help stimulate your immune system to recognise and destroy cancer cells. Sometimes, this type of treatment is used to treat vulval cancer.

Your doctor will explain if this treatment is suitable for you. You may have it as part of a clinical trial. If you know the name of the immunotherapy drug you are having, use our Treatments and drugs A-Z to search for it.

Follow-up after treatment

We understand that having treatment can be a difficult time for people. You can find out more about follow-up in our information about after vulval cancer treatment.

Macmillan is also here to support you. If you want to talk, you can:

  • call the Macmillan Support Line on 0808 808 00 00
  • chat online to our specialists.
  • visit our vulval cancer forum to talk with people who have been affected by vulval cancer, share your experience, and ask an expert your questions.

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.

    Our cancer information has been awarded the PIF TICK. Created by the Patient Information Forum, this quality mark shows we meet PIF’s 10 criteria for trustworthy health information.

The language we use

We want everyone affected by cancer to feel our information is written for them.

We try to make sure our information is as clear as possible. We use plain English, avoid jargon, explain any medical words, use illustrations to explain text, and make sure important points are highlighted clearly.

We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

You can read more about how we produce our information here.