Despite treatment, vulvar cancer sometimes recurs. It may come back in the vulva or elsewhere in the body. Although tumors may appear in distant sites, it is not a new cancer. It is a recurrence of the original cancer.
If you have recurrent vulvar cancer, SCCA can offer you new medical procedures and treatments, as well as access to clinical trials, that your community doctor may not know about. No one at SCCA will tell you that a diagnosis of recurrent disease is not serious, but there is hope.
The treatment you receive for a recurrence of your vulvar cancer may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation--or a combination of these treatments. Your treatment will depend on a number of factors, including the type of treatment you have received in the past, and the symptoms you are experiencing with the new cancer.
Depending on the extent of the disease, your doctors may recommend that you have a wide local excision, which may be followed by radiation therapy. Rarely, you may need a more extensive surgery, called pelvic exenteration. In this procedure, the uterus, cervix, and vagina are removed, as well as other organs to which the cancer has spread, such as the lower colon, rectum, or bladder.
If your doctors feel that surgery is not appropriate for you, they may recommend that you have radiation therapy, possibly in combination with chemotherapy, or alone. Radiation therapy is used for local recurrences and also to reduce symptoms of recurrent disease.
Ask your doctor about taking part in clinical trials of promising treatments for recurrent disease.
Living With Metastatic Disease
Any person who has faced cancer lives with the fear that cancer will return. And the first response many people have to the news of metastases is to fear that they will soon die.
If you have metastatic disease, you will learn a new definition of metastatic cancer—"a chronic disease that can be managed." It's a very different way of looking at cancer. You can expect to have periods of treatment, followed by periods of remission, with a fairly good quality of life throughout.
Emotionally, this can be tough. You may want to talk with a chaplain or social worker or join a support group. SCCA has several support groups for patients and for caregivers and family members.