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Postoperative management of vulvar cancer
  1. Jelena Lukovic and
  2. Kathy Han
  1. Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Hospital Cancer Centre, University Health Network, University of Toronto, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Dr Kathy Han, Radiation Oncology, Princess Margaret Hospital Cancer Centre, University Health Network, University of Toronto, Toronto, ON M5G 2M9, Canada; kathy.han{at}


The primary treatment for resectable vulvar cancer includes wide local excision of the primary tumor and surgical lymph node assessment. Following surgery, up to 40–50% of patients develop a local recurrence. Historically, the strongest predictor of local recurrence is a positive or close margin (defined as <8 mm), although recent studies question the importance of margin status. Post-operative radiotherapy to the vulva is recommended for all women with a positive margin where re-excision is not possible. Radiotherapy may also be considered in the setting of risk factors for local recurrence: close margin, lymphovascular invasion, large tumor size, and/or depth of invasion >5 mm. Nodal assessment is an important component of vulvar cancer management. A negative sentinel node is associated with a low false-negative predictive value (2% in patients with vulvar tumor <4 cm in GOG 173), 2-year groin recurrence rate of 2.3%, and 3-year disease-specific survival rate of 97% in patients with unifocal vulvar tumor <4 cm in the GROningen INternational Study on Sentinel nodes in Vulvar Cancer (GROINSS-V I) study. Thus, patients with tumor size <4 cm (without additional local risk factors) and negative sentinel node can be observed. Patients with sentinel node metastasis ≤2 mm can be treated with post-operative radiotherapy (2-year isolated groin recurrence rate of 1.6% in GROINSS-V II), as a safe alternative to lymphadenectomy. Patients with sentinel node metastasis >2 mm following sentinel node biopsy should undergo inguinofemoral lymphadenectomy followed by post-operative radiotherapy—based on the GROINSS-V II study, the 2-year isolated groin recurrence rate remains unacceptably high (22%) with radiotherapy alone. Retrospective studies suggest that the addition of concurrent chemotherapy to radiotherapy may improve survival. The ongoing GROINSS-V III study is investigating concurrent chemotherapy and radiotherapy dose escalation. The main goal of these post-operative treatments is to reduce the risk of local, and especially groin, recurrences, which are almost universally fatal.

  • radiation
  • vulvar neoplasms

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  • Contributors Both authors made substantial contributions to the conception, drafting, critical revision, and have given their approval of the manuscript. Both authors agree to be accountable for all aspects of the work.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; internally peer reviewed.