Vaginal/Vulvar Cancer Treatment Options

Vaginal Cancer Treatment Options

The most common treatments for vaginal cancer are surgery or radiation therapy.


Surgery is used for early-stage vaginal cancer that is limited to the vagina or, in some cases, nearby tissue. There are multiple surgical options for the treatment of vaginal cancer including:

Removal of small tumors or lesions: Cancer on the surface of the vagina is removed along with a small section of healthy tissue from the surrounding area to ensure that all cancer cells have been removed.

Vaginectomy (removal of the vagina): Depending on the extent of the cancer, it may be necessary to remove some or all of the vagina, or perform a hysterectomy, removing adjacent lymph nodes at the same time.

Pelvic exenteration (removal of the majority of the pelvic organs): In cases where the cancer has recurred or spread to the pelvic area, it is sometimes necessary to remove the majority of the pelvic organs. This is a very rare surgery, but can be the only option in certain circumstances.

Radiation Therapy

Many patients with vaginal cancer are treated with radiation therapy—also called radiotherapy— involving use of high-energy X-rays or other types of radiation to stop the growth of cancer cells or kill them completely.

Radiation can be administered in two ways: external delivery to the pelvis or abdomen, or via radioactive devices placed in the vagina or surrounding tissue. The treatment used depends on the degree of progression of the cancer. In some cases, chemotherapy may be used, either alone or in conjunction with radiation.

Hoag Radiation Oncology

Hoag Family Cancer Institute offers a state-of-the-art facility for radiation therapy, equipped with the latest in radiation technology, handled by an expert team of radiation oncologists, medical physicists, medical dosimetrists, radiation oncology nurses and radiation therapists. Hoag’s Radiation Oncology department is the highest volume provider in Orange County, treating over 100 patients per day.

Learn more about Hoag Radiation Oncology.

Vulvar Cancer Treatment Options


Surgery is most often the best option for treating vulvar cancer. However, for women with substantial vulvar cancers, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be prescribed in an attempt to decrease the tumor size prior to surgery.

Surgical options to treat vulvar cancer include:

  • Local excision (removal of the cancer and a portion of healthy tissue): This procedure involves removing the cancer along with at least a ¾-inch section of normal tissue surrounding it, which helps to ensure all of the cancerous cells are removed.
  • Partial vulvectomy (removal of a portion of the vulva): In this case, a portion of the vulva is removed as well as its underlying tissues.
  • Radical vulvectomy (removal of the entire vulva): This procedure involves removal of the entire vulva including the clitoris and underlying tissues.
  • Extensive surgery for advanced cancer: When the cancer spreads beyond the vulva to include nearby organs, it may be necessary to remove the entire vulva along with the involved organs through a procedure called pelvic exenteration.
  • Reconstructive surgery: Reconstructive surgery may be recommended, depending on the extent of the initial surgery.
  • Lymph node surgery: In cases where vulvar cancer spreads to lymph nodes in the groin, those lymph nodes may need to be removed. This can also cause a condition called lymphedema, resulting in swelling of the legs from fluid retention.

Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy for vulvar cancer is usually administered by a machine that directs radiation to precise regions of your body to kill cancer cells. This is also referred to as external beam radiation.

Hoag Radiation Oncology department specializes in the care and precise treatment of vulvar cancer.


Chemotherapy involves the use of drug therapy to kill cancer cells. Medication is usually injected into the vein, but can sometimes be administered in pill form.