A vulvectomy is done to remove the vulva or parts of it. The vulva is made up of the genital structures located on the outside of a female’s body. These structures are the clitoris, labia majora, and labia minora.
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This is done to remove cancerous cells from the vulva. It may be able to cure vulvar cancer. It can also be done to remove abnormal skin, like warts.
Problems from the procedure are rare, but all procedures have some risk. Your doctor will review potential problems, like: BleedingPain, numbness, or tenderness of the vulvaWound not closing properlyInfectionBlood clots in the legsTightness or dryness of the vaginaInability to have an orgasmChronic leg swellingReaction to anesthesia
Before your procedure, talk to your doctor about ways to manage factors that may increase your risk of complications such as: SmokingDrinkingChronic disease such as diabetes or obesity
Before the surgery, your doctor may: Do a physical exam and review your medical history.Perform blood and imaging tests.Talk to your doctor about your medications. You may be asked to stop taking some medications up to 1 week before the procedure.
Before the surgery: Arrange for a ride to and from the hospital.The night before surgery, do not eat or drink after midnight.
There are several types of vulvectomy surgery. The type you will have depends on what parts of the vulva and nearby tissue have been affected by cancer or abnormal skin. Examples include: Skinning vulvectomy—removes the top layer of skinSimple vulvectomy—removes multiple layers of skin and tissuePartial vulvectomy—removes a part of the vulva, as well as some nearby tissue and lymph nodesRadical vulvectomy—removes the entire vulva, including nearby tissue and lymph nodes
Once all affected areas have been removed, the doctor may need to reconstruct the vulva. If only a small amount of skin was removed, the remaining skin may be able to be stitched together. Sometimes, a
is needed. Temporary drains may be inserted to remove extra fluids from the incision area.
Anesthesia will prevent pain during the procedure. Pain and discomfort after the procedure can be managed with medications.
The hospital stay depends on the type of surgery. You may go home the same day or up to a few days after.
Right after the procedure, you will be in a recovery room where your blood pressure, pulse, and breathing will be monitored. Recovery may also include: Pain medicationsAntibiotics to prevent infectionMedication to prevent blood clotsGetting out of bed and walking around
During your stay, the hospital staff will take steps to reduce your chance of infection such as: Washing their handsWearing gloves or masksKeeping your incisions covered
There are also steps you can take to reduce your chances of infection such as: Washing your hands often and reminding visitors and healthcare providers to do the sameReminding your healthcare providers to wear gloves or masksNot allowing others to touch your incisions
Self-care measures and medications will help ease swelling and pain. Physical and sexual activity may be restricted during this time, but complete rest is not necessary. You may be advised to do exercises to maintain strength and promote healing. To prevent infection at the incision site, follow instructions on how to clean and care for the wound.
It is important for you to monitor your recovery after you leave the hospital. Alert your doctor to any problems right away. If any of the following occur, call your doctor: Signs of infection, including fever and chillsRedness, swelling, increasing pain, tenderness, a lot of bleeding, or discharge from the surgery sitePain, redness, hot skin, or swelling in your legsBurning or pain when urinatingPain not controlled by the medication givenNausea or vomitingAbdominal pain, chest pain, or trouble breathingWound opens
If you think you have an emergency, call for medical help right away.
After surgery for vulval cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support website. Available at:
http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertypes/Vulva/Livingwithvulvalcancer/Aftersurgery.aspx. Updated December 1, 2011. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Having your operation for vulval cancer. Cancer Research UK website. Available at:
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/vulval-cancer/treatment/surgery/having-your-operation-for-vulval-cancer. Updated December 11, 2013. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Surgery for vulval cancer. Macmillan Cancer Support website. Available at:
http://www.macmillan.org.uk/Cancerinformation/Cancertypes/Vulva/Treatingvulvalcancer/Surgery.aspx. Updated December 1, 2011. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Vulvar cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at:
http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/vulvar/Patient/page4. Updated July 23, 2014. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Vulvectomy—a patient's guide. The Society of Gynecologic Oncology of Canada website. Available at:
https://www.g-o-c.org/en/patientadvocacy/cancers/vulvptguide.aspx. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Which surgery for vulval cancer? Cancer Research UK website. Available at:
http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/type/vulval-cancer/treatment/surgery/which-surgery-for-vulval-cancer. Updated January 16, 2014. Accessed November 26, 2014.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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