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Coping

Coping with cancer can be difficult. You may find you have a lot of different feelings. There is help and support available. There are things you can do, people who can help and ways to cope with a diagnosis of vulval cancer.

Everyone reacts in their own way. Sometimes it's hard to take in the fact that you have cancer at all.

Helping yourself

You may be more able to cope and make decisions if you have information about your type of cancer and its treatment. Information helps you to know what to expect.

Taking in information can be difficult, especially when you have just been diagnosed. Make a list of questions before you see your doctor. Take someone with you to remind you what you want to ask and help remember the answers.

Ask your doctors and nurses to explain things again if you need them to.

Remember that you don’t have to sort everything out at once. It might take some time to deal with each issue. Ask for help if you need it.

Physical problems

Cancer of the vulva and its treatment may cause physical changes in your body. These changes can be very difficult to cope with and may affect the way you feel about yourself. Such changes can affect your self esteem and the way you relate to other people, especially close family and friends.

Depending on your treatment, your vulval area could be uncomfortable and sore for a time. This could be the case following surgery, or during or after radiotherapy. So you might find it difficult to move about as much, sit down or go out. Things should improve a few weeks after your operation or 2 to 4 weeks following your radiotherapy.

Your doctor or nurse can advise you on ways to cope with this. There are things you can do to make you more comfortable.

Tiredness (fatigue) and lethargy can be a problem during and after cancer treatment. Resting but also doing some gentle physical activity can help. Fatigue can also be an issue with advanced cancer.

Early menopause

The ovaries are sometimes affected by radiotherapy. If you are still having periods, they may stop working and you may have an early menopause. Symptoms include hot flushes and sweats. Your nurse will talk to you about how to cope with symptoms. You will no longer be able to have children naturally if you have an early menopause. This can be difficult to come to terms with.

Relationships and sex

The physical changes you have might affect your relationships and sex life. There are things that you can do to manage this.

Talking to other people

Talking to your friends and relatives about your cancer can help and support you. But some of those close to you might be scared of the emotions this could bring up and could be reluctant to talk. They might worry that you won't be able to cope with your situation. Help your family and friends by letting them know if you would like to talk about what’s happening.

You may feel quite isolated and find it difficult to share how you feel. You might feel embarrassed about having cancer of an intimate area, although of course you shouldn’t feel this way.

It sometimes helps to speak to women who have had similar treatment. Talking to someone who isn't closely involved can be very helpful and give you the listening time you need. You may also benefit from counselling. Do speak to your specialist nurse or doctor who can help you with this. 

You can also call the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

Coping practically

Practical things you and your family might need to cope with include:

  • money matters
  • financial support, such as benefits, sick pay and grants
  • work issues
  • childcare

Talk to your doctor or specialist nurse to find out who can help. Getting help early with these things can mean that they don’t become a big issue later.

Last reviewed: 
30 Apr 2019
  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    De Vita, VT, Hellman S and Rosenberg SA
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Guidelines for the Diagnosis and management of Vulval Carcinoma
    British Gynaecological Cancer Society and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, May 2014

  • 2014 UK National Guideline on the Management of Vulval Conditions
    British Association for Sexual Health and HIV, February 2014

  • Cancer of the Vulva

    FIGO cancer report 2018

    L Rogers and M Cuello

    International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 2018. Vol 143, Issue S2, Pages 4-13

Information and help