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Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer is quite rare.

The high level of care you get from OhioHealth is, too. 

Hope. It’s an integral part of your OhioHealth Cancer Care Plan.

You see, your diagnosis is just the first step in a focused, deliberate, meaningful plan that marries the clinical with the compassionate. Providing you the precise care, and caring, you need to be ever hopeful as you navigate this new and unfamiliar landscape.

Questions will certainly arise. And that’s OK. We’re here to answer any and all of them — about treatment, clinical trials, your desire to connect with others through educational classes and programs or any of our many other resources.

 As you progress through your Care Plan and beyond, we’ll be with you.

Vulvar Cancer Basics Treatments and Procedures

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Q: What is vulvar cancer and what causes it?

    A: Vulvar cancer occurs when abnormal cells develop in the tissues of the vulva, the external female genitalia that include the clitoris, vaginal lips, and the opening to the vagina. This cancer is most often found in the labia majora or the labia minora, the outer and inner lips, respectively, surrounding the vaginal opening. 

    Causes of vulvar cancer are generally unknown; however, the sexually transmitted infection human papillomavirus (HPV) is thought to play an important role in the development of some carcinomas of the vulva.
  • Q: Is vulvar cancer treatable?

    A: Yes. Different vulvar cancer treatment options for treating vulvar cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and surgery. How your vulvar cancer is treated will depend on the type and stage of your cancer. Additional factors determining the kind of treatment include your age and health. 

    Talk to your doctor about the stage of your vulvar cancer and how it will likely respond to treatment options.
  • Q: Does OhioHealth offer treatment for vulvar cancer?

    A: Yes. We provide vulvar cancer treatments for patients with the best care available in the battle of this serious disease. We have an experienced team of gynecologic oncologists, unique OB/GYN physicians who have extensive special training to provide comprehensive medical and surgical care to women with reproductive tract cancers.
  • Q: How serious is my vulvar cancer diagnosis?

    A: We understand this is the biggest question for someone newly diagnosed with any cancer. The answer you’re looking for, however, is individual to you, just as it is individual to other vulvar cancer patients, and so cannot be generalized in an FAQ. 

    It’s important to talk to your doctor about the seriousness of your vulvar cancer diagnosis with a friend or family member present to help you hear and remember the information your doctor shares with you. Ask your doctor to explain the stage your cancer is in and what that means for your treatment and recovery. Share with your doctor your fears and concerns.

    At OhioHealth, we have the advanced technology to diagnose and treat this disease. We have highly skilled and experienced physicians who know how to fight it.
  • Q: What are the different stages of vulvar cancer?


    Staging is the process of determining the extent of the cancer, whether or not it has spread within the vulva and/or outside of the vulva to other organs. Staging is important in determining the type of treatment most appropriate for the cancer.

    The National Cancer Institute describes the stages of vulvar cancer in this way:

    Stage 0
     (Carcinoma in Situ): In stage 0, abnormal cells are found on the surface of the vulvar skin. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

    Stage I: In stage I, cancer has formed and is found in the vulva only or in the vulva and perineum (area between the rectum and the vagina). The tumor is two centimeters or smaller and has spread to tissue under the skin. Stage I vulvar cancer is further divided into Stage IA and Stage IB.

    • Stage IA: The tumor has spread 1 millimeter or less into the tissue of the vulva.
    • Stage IB: The tumor has spread more than 1 millimeter into the tissue of the vulva.

    Stage II: In stage II, cancer is found in the vulva or the vulva and perineum (space between the rectum and the vagina), and the tumor is larger than two centimeters.

    Stage III: In stage III vulvar cancer, the cancer is of any size and either: 

    • is found only in the vulva or the vulva and perineum and has spread to tissue under the skin and to nearby lymph nodes on one side of the groin; or
    • has spread to nearby tissues such as the lower part of the urethra and/or vagina or anus, and may have spread to nearby lymph nodes on one side of the groin.

    Stage IV: Stage IV is divided into Stage IVA and Stage IVB, based on where the cancer has spread.

    • Stage IVA: Cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes on both sides of the groin, or has spread beyond nearby tissues to the upper part of the urethra, bladder, or rectum, or has attached to the pelvic bone and may have spread to lymph nodes.
    • Stage IVB: Cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

    Recurrence: This is cancer that has been treated and has returned after a period of time when the cancer could not be detected. The disease may return in the vulva or in another part of the body.

  • Q: What does it mean if my cancer spreads? How does it happen?


    Cancer spreads when the tumor’s cancer cells enter the blood stream or the lymph nodes. This spreading is referred to as “metastasis,” and the cancer is referred to as metastatic cancer. Because the metastatic cells are from the original cancer, referred to as the “primary,” the cancer is still the original cancer, although existing now in another part of the body. For example:

    • If vulvar cancer metastasizes into the bladder, the tumor that forms in the bladder is made up of vulvar cancer cells. It is still vulvar cancer, even though it’s now located in the bladder.

    Treatment for metastatic cancer will depend on where it began (its primary source), the location and size of the metastatic cancer, previous cancer treatments and the patient’s health.

  • Q: What treatment options are available to me, and how will they affect my daily life?

    A: Vulvar cancer is treated with laser therapy, surgery, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. The options available to you will depend on the stage of your cancer and the condition of your overall health. 

    It’s understandable to be worried about how this disease and its treatments will change your body and affect intimate relationships. If you have this concern, share it with your doctor who can explain the effect, if any, treatment will have on your sexual life.

    Every cancer patient is unique in her treatment needs, and it’s best to talk with your doctor about what options will work for you, as well as what it means for your quality of life going forward.
  • Q: Does OhioHealth offer any clinical trials for vulvar cancer?

    A: Talk to your doctor about your interest in participating in a clinical trial for vulvar cancer. Your doctor will be able to give you information about any trials for vulvar cancer going on at OhioHealth. Also visit the National Cancer Institute’s website for information on clinical trials to help you learn more about them, so that you may have an informed discussion with your doctor.
  • Q: Will surgery be part of my treatment?

    A: Surgery is a very common treatment option for vulvar cancer. Whether surgery will be considered part of your treatment depends on your individual cancer condition, as well as how well you would respond to surgery. Your doctor and others on your Cancer Care Team will work closely with you to help determine treatment options best for you.
  • Q: Where do I find more information on vulvar cancer?

    A: There’s a lot of information about vulvar cancer on the Web and in bookstores. We recommend you start with the American Cancer Society and the National Cancer Institute for their comprehensive expertise. From there you’ll find more resources.

    Visit these websites for more information on vulvar cancer:
    National Cancer Institute
    American Cancer Society

Want more answers? Browse all of the OhioHealth cancer patient FAQs. General FAQ

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