Vulvar cancer

Vulvar cancer overview

If you have vulvar cancer, your outcomes will be better if you are treated by a gynecologic oncologist right from the beginning.

Seattle Cancer Care Alliance has more gynecologic oncologists than any other medical center or clinic in the Pacific Northwest. They treat all types of gynecologic cancer, including cervical, endometrial, ovarian, and vulvar cancers, as well as uterine sarcoma and gestational trophoblastic disease.

Gynecologic oncologist A physician who has special training in diagnosing and treating cancers of the female reproductive organs.

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Where you're treated first matters most

The most important decision a person with cancer will make is deciding where to get treated. Studies have shown that patients who begin their treatment at a top regional cancer center, like Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), have better outcomes than those who start their treatment elsewhere. And here’s why:

  • Expert care: SCCA doctors treat only cancer and specialize in specific cancer types, such as gynecologic cancer. They have a deep understanding of their specialty since they diagnose and treat thousands of cancer cases every year. This experience builds their expertise that makes better outcomes possible.
     
  • Newest treatments: Doctors at SCCA have access to all the latest developments and research in treating cancer. Your care comes from combined expertise of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, UW Medicine, and Seattle Children's. 

When your treatment is complete, we'll keep close watch on your health through our Women’s Wellness Clinic where we provide wellness-focused follow-up care  focused on cancer treatment recovery.

Where you will be seen

Women who have received a diagnosis of vulvar cancer will be seen initially at the University of Washington Medical Center. In some cases, treatments will also be scheduled at SCCA. If surgery is required, surgical procedures are performed at UW Medical Center, where you may also have follow-up and/or chemotherapy/radiation treatments, if necessary. Your doctor or patient care coordinator will clarify the location where you will receive your care.

Chemotherapy Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. It may be given alone or with other treatments. Treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing. Chemotherapy may be given by mouth, injection, infusion or on the skin, depending on the type and stage of the cancer being treated. It may be given alone or with other treatments, such as surgery, radiation therapy or biologic therapy.

Follow-up after treatment

At SCCA, we follow our patients for as long as they choose. Typically, you will come for checkups every three months for the first two years after your treatment for vulvar cancer. When women live far away from Seattle, we try to coordinate followup care if possible and desirable with your local gynecolgist. 

Women who reach the two-year mark without a recurrence of their disease are less likely to ever have a recurrence. From that point, we usually ask you to come in every six months for a checkup until five years have passed.

After five years, a once-a-year checkup is all that is recommended.

Our patients say that they find it reassuring to see the same doctors who treated them--experts in gynecologic cancers--for their follow-up visits.

Recurrence Cancer that has come back, usually after a period during which it could not be detected. It may come back to the same place as the original (primary) tumor or someplace else. Also called recurrent cancer.

Facts

Vulvar cancer appears as a lesion or ulcer on the external genitalia, or vulva. Cancer of the vulva is rare. It most often occurs in women older than age 60 and may often be found during periodic pelvic exams after menopause.

Lesion An area of abnormal tissue. A lesion may be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer).

Treatment

Vulvar cancer is cancer of the external female sexual organs. Most often, it is a type of skin cancer. It is a fairly rare disease, affecting only about one-half of one percent of all American women who are diagnosed with cancer each year. If detected early, before it has spread to the lymph nodes, the chances of a cure are quite high, 90 percent or better.

Remember, each woman's cancer is different, as are her circumstances, preferences, and beliefs. A treatment that works well for another woman may not be right for you.

Providers

At SCCA, you receive care from a team of providers with extensive experience in your disease. Your team includes physicians, a patient care coordinator, a registered nurse, an advanced practice provider and others, based on your needs. You also have access to experts like nutritionists, social workers, acupuncturists, psychiatrists and more who specialize in supporting people with cancer or blood disorders.

Clinical trials

SCCA was formed, in part, to bring promising new treatments to patients faster. For vulvar cancer patients, this means more treatment options at SCCA than you might find elsewhere, including the chance to participate in one of many ongoing clinical trials conducted at SCCA and its partner organizations, Fred Hutch and UW Medicine.

Clinical trial A type of research study that tests how well new medical approaches work in people. These studies test new methods of screening, prevention, diagnosis or treatment of a disease.

Resources

There are many resources online for learning about your disease. Health educators at the SCCA Patient and Family Resource Center have compiled a list of trusted sources to help you get started.