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Vulvar Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

Stage I Vulvar Cancer

(Refer to the Treatment Option Overview section of this summary for a more detailed discussion of the roles of surgery, lymph node dissection, and radiation therapy.)

Standard treatment options:

  1. A wide (1 cm margin) excision (without lymph node dissection) for microinvasive lesions (<1 mm invasion) with no associated severe vulvar dystrophy. For all other stage I lesions, if well lateralized, without diffuse severe dystrophy, and with clinically negative nodes, a radical local excision with complete unilateral lymphadenectomy.[1] Candidates for this procedure should have lesions 2 cm or smaller in diameter with 5 mm or less invasion, no capillary lymphatic space invasion, and clinically uninvolved nodes.[2,3]
  2. Radical local excision with ipsilateral or bilateral inguinal and femoral node dissection. In tumor clinically confined to the vulva or perineum, radical local excision with a margin of at least 1 cm has generally replaced radical vulvectomy; separate incision has replaced en bloc inguinal node dissection, ipsilateral inguinal node dissection has replaced bilateral dissection for laterally localized tumors; and femoral lymph node dissection has been omitted in many cases.[4-7]
  3. Radical local excision and sentinel node dissection, reserving groin dissection for those with metastasis to the sentinel node(s).[8]
  4. Some investigators recommend radical excision and groin nodal radiation therapy as a means to avoid the morbidity of lymph node dissection. However, it is not clear whether radiation therapy can achieve the same local control rates or survival rates as lymph node dissection in early-stage disease. A randomized trial to address this issue in patients with clinically localized vulvar disease was stopped early as a result of early emergence of worse outcomes in the radiation therapy arm.[9,10] (Refer to the Role of Radiation Therapy section of this summary for more information.)
  5. Radical radiation therapy for patients unable to tolerate surgery or deemed unsuitable for surgery because of site or extent of disease.[11-14]

Current Clinical Trials

Check for U.S. clinical trials from NCI's list of cancer clinical trials that are now accepting patients with stage I vulvar cancer. The list of clinical trials can be further narrowed by location, drug, intervention, and other criteria.

General information about clinical trials is also available from the NCI Web site.


  1. Malfetano JH, Piver MS, Tsukada Y, et al.: Univariate and multivariate analyses of 5-year survival, recurrence, and inguinal node metastases in stage I and II vulvar carcinoma. J Surg Oncol 30 (2): 124-31, 1985. [PUBMED Abstract]
  2. Stehman FB, Bundy BN, Dvoretsky PM, et al.: Early stage I carcinoma of the vulva treated with ipsilateral superficial inguinal lymphadenectomy and modified radical hemivulvectomy: a prospective study of the Gynecologic Oncology Group. Obstet Gynecol 79 (4): 490-7, 1992. [PUBMED Abstract]
  3. Hacker NF, Van der Velden J: Conservative management of early vulvar cancer. Cancer 71 (4 Suppl): 1673-7, 1993. [PUBMED Abstract]
  4. Hoffman MS, Roberts WS, Lapolla JP, et al.: Recent modifications in the treatment of invasive squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Obstet Gynecol Surv 44 (4): 227-33, 1989. [PUBMED Abstract]
  5. Thomas GM, Dembo AJ, Bryson SC, et al.: Changing concepts in the management of vulvar cancer. Gynecol Oncol 42 (1): 9-21, 1991. [PUBMED Abstract]
  6. Heaps JM, Fu YS, Montz FJ, et al.: Surgical-pathologic variables predictive of local recurrence in squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Gynecol Oncol 38 (3): 309-14, 1990. [PUBMED Abstract]
  7. Eifel PJ, Berek JS, Markman MA: Cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulva. In: DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA: Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 9th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2011, pp 1311-44.
  8. Van der Zee AG, Oonk MH, De Hullu JA, et al.: Sentinel node dissection is safe in the treatment of early-stage vulvar cancer. J Clin Oncol 26 (6): 884-9, 2008. [PUBMED Abstract]
  9. Stehman FB, Bundy BN, Thomas G, et al.: Groin dissection versus groin radiation in carcinoma of the vulva: a Gynecologic Oncology Group study. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 24 (2): 389-96, 1992. [PUBMED Abstract]
  10. van der Velden J, Fons G, Lawrie TA: Primary groin irradiation versus primary groin surgery for early vulvar cancer. Cochrane Database Syst Rev (5): CD002224, 2011. [PUBMED Abstract]
  11. Petereit DG, Mehta MP, Buchler DA, et al.: Inguinofemoral radiation of N0,N1 vulvar cancer may be equivalent to lymphadenectomy if proper radiation technique is used. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 27 (4): 963-7, 1993. [PUBMED Abstract]
  12. Slevin NJ, Pointon RC: Radical radiotherapy for carcinoma of the vulva. Br J Radiol 62 (734): 145-7, 1989. [PUBMED Abstract]
  13. Perez CA, Grigsby PW, Galakatos A, et al.: Radiation therapy in management of carcinoma of the vulva with emphasis on conservation therapy. Cancer 71 (11): 3707-16, 1993. [PUBMED Abstract]
  14. Kumar PP, Good RR, Scott JC: Techniques for management of vulvar cancer by irradiation alone. Radiat Med 6 (4): 185-91, 1988 Jul-Aug. [PUBMED Abstract]
  • Updated: April 10, 2015