Chemotherapy is one of the longest used and most common treatments for cancer. In most cases, chemotherapy works by interfering with the cancer cell's ability to grow and reproduce. For some types of cancer, chemotherapy may be used alone or in combination with other treatments such as radiation or surgery. A combination of chemotherapy medicines is typically used to fight a specific cancer.
While chemotherapy can be quite effective in treating certain cancers, the medicines reach all parts of the body, not just the cancer cells. There can be many side effects during treatment, and being prepared for these side effects can help you and your caregivers manage them effectively.
How is chemotherapy given?
Chemotherapy can be given in various ways, such as:
- A pill to swallow
- An injection (shot) into the muscle or fat tissue
- Directly into the bloodstream, or intravenously (also called IV)
- Topically (applied to the skin)
- Directly into a body cavity
Chemotherapy is usually given in cycles in order to allow healthy cells the time to recover. Treatment may be given daily, weekly, every few weeks or monthly, depending on your situation.
Chemotherapy is usually given in an outpatient setting. This includes a hospital, clinic or healthcare provider's office.
Patients are encouraged to take along something that is comforting to occupy their time during treatment. Since it is hard to predict how a patient will feel after treatment, it is important that the patient has arrangements to have someone drive them to and from their appointment.
Radiation therapy is a treatment for cancer that uses high-energy X-rays. A machine directs the rays of energy to the area of cancer, with a goal to kill or shrink cancer cells.
Learn more by reading details on radiation treatment with vulvar cancer below, and visit our Radiation Oncology website for an overview of services.
When might radiation therapy be used for vulvar cancer?
Radiation therapy is the most common treatment for vulvar cancer, but it is also often used along with other treatments like surgery or chemotherapy. Your doctor may advise radiation to:
- Kill any remaining small areas of cancer following a surgery
- Serve as the main treatment, sometimes along with chemotherapy
- Shrink a tumor to make it easier to operate on before surgery
- Treat a single area of cancer spread, such as a tumor in the brain or an adrenal gland. This may be done along with surgery to treat the tumor.
- Relieve symptoms such as pain, bleeding, trouble swallowing, cough or problems caused by a spread of cancer.
Types of radiation therapy
- External beam radiation therapy. This treatment is the most common type of radiation therapy used to treat vulvar cancer. This treatment focuses radiation from outside the body on the cancer in order to eliminate cancer cells.
One common treatment for vulvar cancer is surgery, where a procedure is performed in order to remove the tumor and a margin of healthy tissue. Patients have several surgical options, and the type of surgery can depend on a few factors, such as:
- Your overall health
- The type and stage of your cancer
- The size of the tumor
- If the cancer has spread within the vagina, outside of the vagina to the lymph nodes, or to other parts of the body
The most common types of vulvar cancer surgery include:
- Local excision. In a local excision procedure, the surgeon removes the cancer along with surrounding tissue. For small stage I cancers, treatment may include a radical wide local excision along with a procedure to evaluate the lymph nodes.
- Vulvectomy. This type of surgery aims to remove all or part of the vulva. Depending on the case, full- or partial vulvectomy may be required. A radical vulvectomy is removal of the vulva along with surrounding tissue.
- Pelvic exenteration. This extensive operation is used to treat vulvar cancer involves vulvectomy and often removal of the pelvic lymph nodes, as well as removal of one or more of the following structures: the lower colon, rectum, bladder, uterus, cervix and vagina. How much has to be removed depends on how far the cancer has spread.