Chemotherapy for vulvar cancer
Chemotherapy uses anticancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. It is sometimes used to treat vulvar cancer. Your healthcare team will consider your personal needs to plan the drugs, doses and schedules of chemotherapy. You may also receive other treatments.
Chemotherapy is often combined with radiation therapy to treat vulvar cancer. This is called chemoradiation. The 2 treatments are given during the same time period.
You may have chemotherapy to relieve pain or control the symptoms of advanced vulvar cancer (called palliative chemotherapy).
Chemotherapy is usually a systemic therapy. This means that the drugs travel through the bloodstream to reach and destroy cancer cells all over the body, including those that may have broken away from the primary tumour in the vulva.
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The most common chemotherapy drugs used to treat vulvar cancer are:
- fluorouracil (5-fluorouracil or 5-FU, Efudex), given as topical chemotherapy
The drugs that may be used in different combinations for advanced or recurrent vulvar cancer are:
The most common chemotherapy drug combination used to treat vulvar cancer is cisplatin or carboplatin and 5-FU.
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Side effects can happen with any type of treatment for vulvar cancer, but everyone’s experience is different. Some people have many side effects. Other people have few or none at all.
Chemotherapy may cause side effects because it can damage healthy cells as it kills cancer cells. If you develop side effects, they can happen any time during, immediately after or a few days or weeks after chemotherapy. Sometimes late side effects develop months or years after chemotherapy. Most side effects go away on their own or can be treated, but some side effects may last a long time or become permanent.
Side effects of chemotherapy will depend mainly on the type of drug, the dose, how it’s given and your overall health. Side effects can be more severe when chemotherapy is given with radiation therapy. Some common side effects of chemotherapy drugs used for vulvar cancer are:
- low blood cell counts
- nausea and vomiting
- sore mouth and throat
- loss of appetite
- skin problems
- hair loss
- peripheral neuropathy
Tell your healthcare team if you have these side effects or others you think might be from chemotherapy. The sooner you tell them of any problems, the sooner they can suggest ways to help you deal with them.
American Cancer Society. Chemotherapy for Vulvar Cancer. 2018: https://www.cancer.org/.
Klopp AH, Eifel PJ, Berek JS, Konstantinopoulos PA . Cancer of the cervix, vagina and vulva. DeVita VT Jr, Lawrence TS, Rosenberg SA. Cancer: Principles and Practice of Oncology. 10th ed. Philadelphia: Wolters Kluwer Health/Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2015: 72:1013-1047.
Levine DA, Dizon DS, Yashar CM, Barakat RR, Berchuch A, Markman M, Randall ME. Handbook for Principles and Practice of Gynecologic Oncology. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Wolters Kluwer; 2015.