What to Know About Surgery for Vulvar Cancer

surgery

The goal of surgery is to remove tumors or cancerous lesions from the vulva while trying to leave as much normal tissue as possible. This allows your sexual, bowel, and bladder functions to stay intact. Sometimes surgery requires removing surrounding tissue or organs. Surgery is the most common treatment for vulvar cancer.

These are some of the most common types of surgery for vulvar cancer.

Local Excision

If you have early-stage vulvar cancers (Stage I or II), your surgeon may remove the cancer and some normal skin surrounding it. This surgery is called wide local excision. Depending on the diagnosis and size and location of the tumor, the doctor may remove the cancer and deeper layers of the vulva. This surgery is called radical local excision.

Vulvectomy

For this surgery, the doctor removes part of your vulva or your whole vulva. The extent of surgery depends on the size of the tumor, where it is located on the vulva, and how much of the vulva is involved. It also depends on the traits of the tumor itself and whether the surgeon can remove enough normal tissue around the tumor. Also, your surgeon will consider the post-operative cosmetic result and the impact of surgery on your quality of life. The surgeon may also remove infection-fighting glands called lymph nodes. He or she removes lymph nodes in your pelvic area and groin to check for signs of cancer. You may receive chemotherapy and radiation therapy before or after this surgery. The surgeon will explain what he or she is planning on doing for your situation.

Lymphadenectomy

With this surgery, the surgeon removes the lymph node or nodes on the side of your body that has the tumor. In some cases, the doctor may remove lymph nodes from both sides of your groin. Lymph nodes in the groin may be removed even in women with small tumors.

Pelvic Exenteration

If the cancer has spread outside your vulva to nearby organs, you may have a more involved surgery, called pelvic exenteration. This rare procedure removes your vulva and lymph nodes in the pelvic area. The doctor also removes one or more of the following: your vagina, cervix, uterus, lower colon, rectum, or bladder, depending on where the cancer has spread. In some cases, the surgeon removes your clitoris, depending upon the location of the cancer.

Laser Surgery

This type of surgery uses a laser beam (a narrow beam of intense light) to cut out or kill cancer cells. Laser surgery is used as a treatment for vulvar cancer that is not invasive (Stage 0 or carcinoma in situ). It is not used to treat invasive cancer.

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