One approach used to treat vulvar cancer is the surgical removal of part of the vulva (partial vulvectomy) or the entire vulva (radical vulvectomy). Vulvar cancer begins in the tissues of the vulva and most often affects the vaginal lips (the edges of the labia). The vulva is the external area of the female genitalia, including the labia majora and minora (inner and outer lips, or skin folds), clitoris and vaginal opening.
A partial vulvectomy removes a portion of the vulva and underlying tissues. If cancer is found in or near the clitoris, our doctors may also recommend those areas be removed.
A radical vulvectomy, which is rare because it is considered extensive, involves removing the entire vulva, including the inner and outer lips and the clitoris. The lymph nodes that drain lymph fluid away from the vulva may also be removed. A radical vulvectomy does not typically involve the removal of the vagina, uterus and ovaries.
Surgery may be recommended in combination with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or hormone therapy. These treatments may be administered before surgery (neoadjuvant therapy) or after surgery (adjuvant therapy) to help prevent cancer growth, spread or recurrence.