Vulvar Cancer: Coping with Treatment

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 01/2021

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about coping with the physical, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer and its treatment. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every cancer treatment can cause side effects or changes to your body and how you feel. For many reasons, people do not experience the same side effects even when they are given the same treatment for the same type of cancer. This can make it hard to predict how you will feel during treatment.

As you prepare to start cancer treatment, it is normal to fear treatment-related side effects. It may help to know that your health care team will work to prevent and relieve side effects. This part of cancer treatment is called “palliative care" or "supportive care.” It is an important part of your treatment plan, regardless of your age or the stage of disease.

Coping with physical side effects

Common physical side effects from each treatment option for vulvar cancer are described in the Types of Treatment section. This includes changes to sexual health and fertility. Learn more about other side effects of vulvar cancer and its treatment, along with ways to prevent or control them. Changes to your physical health depend on several factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dose of treatment, and your general health.

Talk with your health care team regularly about how you are feeling. It is important to let them know about any new side effects or changes in existing side effects. If they know how you are feeling, they can find ways to relieve or manage your side effects to help you feel more comfortable and potentially keep any side effects from worsening.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your side effects so it is easier to explain any changes with your health care team. Learn more about why tracking side effects is helpful.

Sometimes, side effects can last after treatment ends. Doctors call these long-term side effects. They call side effects that occur months or years after treatment late effects. Treating long-term side effects and late effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the Follow-Up Care section of this guide or talking with your doctor.

Coping with emotional and social effects

You can have emotional and social effects after a cancer diagnosis. These may include dealing with a variety of emotions, such as sadness, depression, anxiety, or anger, or managing your stress level. Sometimes, people find it difficult to express how they feel to their loved ones. Some have found that talking to an oncology social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can help them develop more effective ways of coping and talking about cancer.

You can find coping strategies for emotional and social effects in a separate section of this website. This section includes many resources for finding support and information to meet your needs.

Coping with the stigma of vulvar cancer

Vulvar cancer, like other cancers that affect the sex organs, can be difficult to discuss. People with many different types of cancer, such as cervical, testicular, penile, and vaginal cancers, can experience feelings of embarrassment when discussing these “sensitive” areas of their bodies. However, this should never stop you from requesting and receiving the emotional, physical, and social support you deserve, and your treatment team will never be embarrassed by discussing these issues with you. Your team can help you feel comfortable talking about this with others as well.

Because vulvar cancer is associated with HPV, patients may feel that they will not receive as much support or help from people around them because they believe that others may think that their behavior caused the disease. Although many vulvar cancers are caused by HPV, it is important to remember that most genital HPV infections will not cause cancer. Vulvar cancer can affect any woman.

Living with this stigma can make patients feel guilty, hopeless, embarrassed, ashamed, and isolated. Patients and their families should tell the health care team if they are affected by any of these emotions. There are resources to help those living with vulvar cancer. Some patients feel comfortable discussing their disease and experiences with their doctor, nurse, family, and friends. Other people find help through a support group or other support options.

Learn more about counseling and finding a support group.

Coping with the costs of cancer care

Cancer treatment can be expensive. It may be a source of stress and anxiety for people with cancer and their families. In addition to treatment costs, many people find they have extra, unplanned expenses related to their care. For some people, the high cost of medical care stops them from following or completing their cancer treatment plan. This can put their health at risk and may lead to higher costs in the future. Patients and their families are encouraged to mention financial concerns with a member of their health care team. There are often resources to address these concerns. An oncology social worker may be able to help connect you with those. Learn more about managing financial considerations in a separate part of this website.

Coping with barriers to care

Different groups of people experience different rates of new cancer cases and experience different outcomes from their cancer. These differences are called “cancer disparities.” Disparities are caused in part by real-world barriers to quality medical care and more often negatively affect racial and ethnic minorities, poor people, sexual and gender minorities (LGBTQ+), adolescent and young adult populations, older adults, and people who live in rural areas or other underserved communities.

If you are having difficulty getting the care you need, talk with a member of your health care team or explore other resources that help support medically underserved people.

Caring for a loved one with cancer

Family members and friends often play an important role in taking care of a person with vulvar cancer. This function is called being a caregiver. Caregivers can provide physical, practical, and emotional support to the patient, even if they live far away. Being a caregiver can also be stressful and emotionally challenging. One of the most important tasks for caregivers is caring for themselves.

Caregivers may have a range of responsibilities on a daily or as-needed basis, including:

  • Providing support and encouragement

  • Talking with the health care team

  • Giving medications

  • Helping manage symptoms and side effects

  • Coordinating medical appointments

  • Providing a ride to and from appointments

  • Assisting with meals

  • Helping with household chores

  • Handling insurance and billing issues

A caregiving plan can help caregivers stay organized and help identify opportunities to delegate tasks to others. It may be helpful to ask the health care team how much care will be needed at home and with daily tasks during and after treatment. Use this 1-page fact sheet to help make a caregiving action plan. This free fact sheet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print.

Learn more about caregiving or read the ASCO Answers Guide to Caring for a Loved One in English or Spanish.

Talking with your health care team about side effects

Before starting treatment, talk with your doctor about possible side effects. Ask:

  • Which side effects are most likely?

  • When are they likely to happen?

  • What can we do to prevent or relieve them?

Be sure to tell your health care team about any side effects that happen during treatment and afterward. Tell them even if you do not think the side effects are serious. This discussion should include physical, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer.

Looking for More on How to Track Side Effects?

Cancer.Net offers several resources to help you keep track of your symptoms and side effects. Please note that these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:

Cancer.Net Mobile app symptom tracker

  • Cancer.Net Mobile: The free Cancer.Net mobile app allows you to securely record the time and severity of symptoms and side effects.

  • ASCO Answers Managing Pain: Get this 32-page booklet about the importance of pain relief that includes a pain tracking sheet to help patients record how pain affects them. The free booklet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print.

  • ASCO Answers Fact Sheets: Read 1-page fact sheets on anxiety and depression, constipation, diarrhea, and rash that provide a tracking sheet to record details about the side effect. These free fact sheets are available as a PDF, so they are easy to print, fill out, and give to your health care team.

The next section in this guide is Follow-Up Care. It explains the importance of checkups after cancer treatment is finished. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.