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Staging and prognosis of vulvar cancer

Staging

Based on the test results, your doctor will tell you the stage of the cancer. Staging is a way to describe the size of the cancer and whether it has spread from the vulva to other parts of the body.

In Australia, vulvar cancer is usually staged using the staging system from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).

stage ICancer is found only in the vulva or perineum.
stage IICancer is found in the vulva and/or perineum and has also spread to the lower urethra, the lower vagina or the anus.
stage IIICancer is found in the vulva and/or perineum and in lymph nodes of the groin (it can be stage 3 whether or not it has spread to the urethra, vagina or anus).
stage IVCancer has spread to the upper urethra, upper vagina or more distant parts of the body.

Your doctor may also tell you the grade of the cancer cells. This gives you an idea of how fast the cancer may grow. Low-grade (grade 1) cells are slow growing and less likely to spread. High-grade
(grade 3) cells look more abnormal, and are more likely to grow and spread quickly.

Knowing the stage and grade of the cancer helps your health care team recommend the most appropriate treatment for you.

Prognosis

Prognosis means the expected outcome of a disease. You may wish to discuss your prognosis and treatment options with your doctor, but it is not possible for anyone to predict the exact course of the disease. Instead, your doctor can give you an idea about the general prognosis for people with the same type and stage of vulvar cancer. In most cases, the earlier vulvar cancer is diagnosed, the better the chances of successful treatment.

To work out your prognosis, your doctor will consider your test results; the type of vulvar cancer you have; the stage and grade of the cancer; whether the cancer has spread to the lymph nodes; and other factors such as your age, fitness and overall health. In most cases, the doctor will not have enough information to assess prognosis until after the surgery to remove the cancer.

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jane Conroy-Wright, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Suparna Karpe, Clinical Psychologist, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Sally McCoull, Consumer; A/Prof Orla McNally, Gynaecological Oncologist and Director, Oncology/Dysplasia, The Royal Women’s Hospital, and Director, Gynaecology Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Haley McNamara, Social Worker and Project Manager, Care at End of Life Project, Queensland Health, QLD; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician – Physiotherapy, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.