Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer: Care Instructions
Vaginal and vulvar cancer occur when abnormal cells grow out of control in the vagina or the vulva. The vagina, also called the birth canal, is the tube that goes from the uterus to the outside of the body. The vulva includes the lips of the vagina, the sensitive tissue between those lips called the clitoris, and the opening of the vagina.
Cancer of the vagina or vulva is often curable when it is found early. Treatment may include surgery to remove part or all of the vulva or vagina. It may also include radiation, which uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells, or chemotherapy, which uses medicines.
Being treated for cancer can weaken your body, and you may feel very tired. Home treatment and certain medicines can relieve some of your symptoms and help you feel better.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor or nurse advice line (811 in most provinces and territories) if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How can you care for yourself at home?
- Take your medicines exactly as prescribed. Call your doctor or nurse advice line if you have any problems with your medicine. You may get medicine for nausea and vomiting if you have these side effects.
- Eat healthy food. If you do not feel like eating, try to eat food that has protein and extra calories to keep up your strength and prevent weight loss. Drink liquid meal replacements for extra calories and protein. Try to eat your main meal early.
- Get some physical activity every day, but do not get too tired. Keep doing the hobbies you enjoy as your energy allows.
- Take steps to control your stress and workload. Learn relaxation techniques.
- Share your feelings. Stress and tension affect our emotions. By expressing your feelings to others, you may be able to understand and cope with them.
- Consider joining a support group. Talking about a problem with your spouse, a good friend, or other people with similar problems is a good way to reduce tension and stress.
- Express yourself through art. Try writing, crafts, dance, or art to relieve stress. Some dance, writing, or art groups may be available just for people who have cancer.
- Be kind to your body and mind. Getting enough sleep, eating a healthy diet, and taking time to do things you enjoy can contribute to an overall feeling of balance in your life and can help reduce stress.
- Get help if you need it. Discuss your concerns with your doctor, counsellor, or other health professional.
- If you are vomiting or have diarrhea:
- Drink plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Choose water and other clear liquids. If you have kidney, heart, or liver disease and have to limit fluids, talk with your doctor before you increase the amount of fluids you drink.
- When you are able to eat, try clear soups, mild foods, and liquids until all symptoms are gone for 12 to 48 hours. Other good choices include dry toast, crackers, cooked cereal, and gelatin dessert, such as Jell-O.
- If you have not already done so, prepare an advance care plan. An advance care plan provides instructions to your doctor and family members about what kind of care you want if you become unable to speak or express yourself.
When should you call for help?
Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:
- You passed out (lost consciousness).
Call your doctor or nurse advice line now or seek immediate medical care if:
- You have a fever or chills. Or you may be sweating.
- You have abnormal bleeding.
- You have new or worse pain.
- You think you have an infection.
- You have new symptoms, such as a cough, belly pain, vomiting, diarrhea, or a rash.
- You have signs of a blood clot, such as:
- Pain in your calf, back of the knee, thigh, or groin.
- Redness and swelling in your leg or groin.
Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor or nurse advice line if:
- You are much more tired than usual.
- You have swollen glands in your armpits, groin, or neck.
- You do not get better as expected.
Current as of: May 4, 2022
Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine & E. Gregory Thompson MD - Internal Medicine & Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine & Jimmy Ruiz MD - Hematology, Oncology