Surgery and radiotherapy in vulvar cancer

Crit Rev Oncol Hematol. 2006 Oct;60(1):38-58. doi: 10.1016/j.critrevonc.2006.02.008. Epub 2006 Jul 10.


The majority of patients with vulvar cancer have squamous cell carcinomas (SCC). The cornerstone of the treatment is surgery. Radical vulvectomy with "en bloc" inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy has led to a favorable prognosis but with impressive morbidity. Nowadays, treatment is more individualized with wide local excision with uni- or bilateral inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy via separate incisions as the standard treatment for early stage patients with SCC of the vulva with depth of invasion >1 mm without suspicious groins. In case of more than one intranodal lymph node metastasis and/or extranodal growth, postoperative radiotherapy on the groins and pelvis is warranted. Until now there is a limited role for primary radiotherapy on the vulva and/or groins in early stage disease. The sentinel lymph node (SLN) procedure with the combined technique (preoperative lymphoscintigraphy with a radioactive tracer and intraoperative blue dye) is a promising staging technique for patients with early stage vulvar cancer. The safety of clinical implementation of the SLN procedure and the role of additional histopathological techniques of the SLNs need to be further investigated before its wide-scale application. Patients with advanced vulvar cancer are difficult to treat. One of the problems in patients with locally advanced vulvar cancer is the high incidence of concomitant bulky lymph nodes in the groin(s). Ultraradical surgery in case of resectable disease will lead to impressive morbidity because of the exenterative-type procedure. (Chemo)radiation with or without surgery should be regarded as the first choice for patients with locally advanced vulvar cancer only when primary surgery will necessitate performance of a stoma. Further studies are needed to determine the optimal combined modality treatment in these patients. Due to the fact that vulvar cancer is a rare disease, further clinical studies will only be possible, when international collaborative groups will join forces in order to perform clinical trials, in which different treatment options such as SLN procedure, primary radiotherapy on the groins and multimodality treatment for advanced disease will be investigated.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / epidemiology
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / radiotherapy*
  • Carcinoma, Squamous Cell / surgery*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lymphatic Metastasis / pathology
  • Models, Biological
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy / methods
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant / methods
  • Sentinel Lymph Node Biopsy / methods
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / radiotherapy*
  • Vulvar Neoplasms / surgery*