Research into vulval cancer

Researchers in the UK are trying to improve the diagnosis and treatment of vulval cancer.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for vulval cancer in the UK. You need to talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you might be able to take part in.

Some of the trials on this page have now stopped recruiting people. It takes time before the results are available. This is because the trial team follow the patients for a period of time and collect and analyse the results. We have included this ongoing research to give examples of the type of research being carried out in vulval cancer

Click on the ‘recruiting’, ‘closed’ and ‘results’ tabs to see all the trials.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments must be fully researched before they can be used for everyone. This is so we can be sure that:

  • they work
  • they work better than the treatments already available
  • they are safe

Research into preventing vulval cancer

There’s a known link between vulval cancer and infection with the human papilloma virus (HPV). This is a type of virus that can infect the skin in different parts of the body, including the vulva. 

HPV vaccination is now part of the vaccination programme to prevent cervical cancer and some other types of cancer. It may also help to prevent vulval cancer. But it will take some years to find this out because vulval cancer takes such a long time to develop. 

Research into the diagnosis of vulval cancer

Vulval cancer is most likely to be cured if it is found and treated early. Some doctors recommend that you look at your vulva regularly to look for any changes. This is called self examination.

Researchers developed a programme that supports and teaches women how to do a self examination. It is for people who have a high risk of developing vulval cancer. They want to find out if the programme helps to diagnose vulval cancer earlier.

Research into the treatment of vulval cancer

There are some clinical trials in the UK looking at treatment for vulval cancer. Researchers are looking at:

  • radiotherapy
  • vaccines
  • targeted cancer drugs


Radiotherapy is a common treatment for vulval cancer. You usually have it after surgery. The aim is to try to stop the cancer from coming back in the lymph nodes Open a glossary item after you have had surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment. 

Generally, doctors prefer to use surgery to remove lymph nodes that could contain cancer cells. But having radiotherapy instead of surgery may cause fewer long term side effects. Doctors want to find out whether radiotherapy is as good as surgery at stopping the cancer from coming back.

Vaccines to treat vulval cancer

Doctors are looking at a new vaccine called RNA for people with cancer that tested positive to the human papilloma virus (HPV positive). This includes vulval cancer that has come back.

The RNA vaccine has been made in the laboratory to help the immune system Open a glossary item recognise and attack cancer cells

Doctors want to:

  • find the highest safe dose of RNA vaccine
  • learn about the side effects
  • find out how well the RNA vaccine works as a treatment

Targeted cancer drugs

Doctors are always looking for new drugs to treat cancer. Some trials are looking at targeted cancer drugs. Targeted cancer drugs work by ‘targeting’ those differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow. They are a common treatment for many types of cancer.

Researchers are looking into different types of targeted drugs for vulval cancer. This includes:

  • pembrolizumab
  • nivolumab

Research into the side effects of treatment

After treatment, some people can have long term side effects. Trials are looking at ways to reduce or manage these side effects.

Bowel changes

Radiotherapy to the pelvis can cause a thickening of the tissue, making it less stretchy. This is called fibrosis and can cause bowel problems. Doctors want to find out if a combination of palm oil supplement and a drug called pentoxifylline can reduce the bowel symptoms caused by pelvic radiotherapy.

Reporting side effects online

Some studies are looking at ways to report side effects of treatment using an online system. The researchers want to find out if this is a better way of reporting symptoms.

Research into the follow up

Doctors don’t yet know the best way to follow up women with gynaecological cancers. A study is interviewing women to find out what kind of follow up they would like.

Research into living with vulva cancer

Researchers are looking into how best to support women after their diagnosis and treatment for vulval cancer. In one study, they are looking into how a diagnosis of cancer can affect people in the short, medium and long term.

They are also looking at mindfulness exercises to improve the quality of life of people who have had treatment for vulval cancer.

  • Cancer Research UK clinical trials database
    Accessed February 2023

    US National Library Of Medicine. Last accessed February 2023

  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) vulval cancer guidelines: recommendations for practice
    J Morrison and others
    British Gynaecological Cancer Society, 2020

  • Cancer of the vulva: 2021 update (FIGO cancer report 2021)

    A Olawaiye and M Cuello

    International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 2021. Vol 155, Issue S1, Pages 7-18

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Targeting Human Papillomavirus to Reduce the Burden of Cervical, Vulvar and Vaginal Cancer and Pre-Invasive Neoplasia: Establishing the Baseline for Surveillance
    M Nygard and others 
    Public Library of science, 2014. Vol 9, Issue 2,

Last reviewed: 
01 Feb 2023
Next review due: 
01 Feb 2026

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