Surgery for vulvar cancer
Surgery is the main treatment for vulvar cancer. A gynaecological oncologist will try to remove all of the cancer along with some of the surrounding healthy tissue (called a margin). This helps reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Some lymph nodes in your groin may also be removed.
For more on this, see our general section on Surgery or call 13 11 20.
Learn more about:
How much of the vulva is removed depends on the location of the tumour and how far the cancer has spread. Your gynaecological oncologist will talk to you about the risks and possible complications of surgery, as well as side effects.
|wide local excision||Used for precancerous changes; the surgeon cuts out the precancer only.|
|radical local excision||Used for small cancers; the surgeon cuts out the cancer and a margin of healthy tissue.|
|partial radical vulvectomy||Used when the cancer is on one side of the vulva only; the surgeon removes a large part of the vulva and nearby lymph nodes.|
|complete radical vulvectomy||Used when the cancer covers a large area of the vulva; the surgeon removes the whole vulva (including the clitoris), surrounding deep tissue and nearby lymph nodes.|
|lymph node surgery||You may need to have lymph nodes in the groin removed to check for the spread of cancer. This may be through a: |
|reconstructive surgery||You may be able to have the skin around the wound drawn together with stitches. These will dissolve and disappear as the wound heals. If a large area of skin is removed, you may need a skin graft or skin flap. In this case, flaps of skin in the vulvar area are moved to cover the wound. Rarely, the surgeon may take a thin piece of skin from another part of your body (usually your abdomen or thigh) and stitch it over the wound.|
Recovery after surgery
How long recovery takes will depend on the type of surgery you had and your general health. If only a small amount of skin is removed from the vulva, the wound is likely to heal quickly and you may go home in 1–2 days. If the surgeon removed a large amount of vulvar skin or some lymph nodes, recovery will take longer. You may spend up to a week in hospital.
Drains – If lymph nodes are removed, you may have a tube placed into the groin to drain fluid from the surgical site into a bag. This is called a surgical drain and it may be removed before you leave hospital. If you go home with the drain still in place, nurses will show you how to look after the drain and your doctor will tell you when it can be removed.
Pain – You will be given medicine to control any pain. Your doctor will tell you how soon you can stand up and walk after surgery, and how to avoid the stitches coming apart. It may be more comfortable to wear loose-fitting clothing without underwear.
Catheter – You may have a tube called a catheter to drain urine from your bladder into a bag. The catheter may be removed the day after surgery or stay in place for several days, depending on how close the surgery was to the opening of the bladder.
I asked my husband to take pictures of my vulva so we could see it and talk about what happened. This helped him understand what I’d been through.Trudy
Podcast: Making Treatment Decisions
Prof Alison Brand AM, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Ming-Yin Lin, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Lisa Mackenzie, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; Anne Mellon, CNC – Gynaecological Oncology, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Archana Rao, Gynaecological Oncologist, Senior Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Anita Tyrrell, Consumer; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD.
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