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Research

There are only a few trials for vulval cancer as it is rare. 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.

Go to Cancer Research UK’s clinical trials database if you are looking for a trial for vulval cancer in the UK. Do talk to your specialist if there are any trials that you think you might be able to take part in. They may also know of other trials that might be suitable for you.

Research and clinical trials

All cancer treatments have to 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 known to be safe

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. 

There are tests available which pick up the types of human papilloma virus that cause cancer. HPV testing is now part of the national screening programme to prevent cervical cancer. It may also prove useful in preventing vulval cancer. But it will take some years to find this out because vulval cancer takes such a long time to develop. 

Vaccines have been developed to stop people from becoming infected with the HPV virus.

Treating VIN (vulval intraepithelial neoplasia)

VIN (vulval intraepithelial neoplasia) is a pre cancerous condition of the cells in the skin of the vulva. It isn't cancer, but if you have this condition there is a risk that it might go on to develop into a cancer. VIN is often linked to infection with HPV.

Anti viral cream for VIN

Veregen is a cream being looked at by researchers. It contains a substance from green tea. They know that the cream is safe to use and works for women with genital warts. The researchers think it may also help women with VIN 3.

Treatment for vulval cancer

Radiotherapy

Doctors sometimes use radiotherapy after surgery. The aim is to try to stop the cancer from coming back in the lymph nodes after you have had surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment. 
You are most likely to have this if: 

  • two or more of the lymph nodes removed contain cancer cells
  • the cancer has broken through the capsule that surrounds the lymph node

Generally, doctors prefer to use surgery to remove lymph nodes that could contain cancer cells. Having radiotherapy instead of surgery (to remove the lymph nodes) may cause fewer long term side effects. But doctors are not yet sure whether radiotherapy is as good as surgery at stopping the cancer coming back.

A large trial called the GROINSS-VII trial is looking at this issue. You can read more about this in our trials database.

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.

It has been made in the laboratory to help the immune system to recognise and attack HPV16. (HPV) which can cause cell changes that can develop into cancer.

At the moment, cancer vaccines are still largely unproven, and they’re available only in clinical trials. Doctors want to find the highest safe dose of RNA vaccine and learn about the side effects as well as finding out how well the RNA vaccine works as a treatment.

Advanced vulval cancer

Doctors are always looking at new drugs to treat cancer. In one study patients have an immunotherapy drug called pembrolizumab. This trial is for people whose cancer has progressed while on standard treatment. This includes women with vulval cancer. 

When in the trials database, click on both the recruiting and closed tabs at the top of the page.

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

Another study is looking at ways to report side effects of treatment using an online system. It has already been tested with a small number of people. The researchers now want to test the system with a larger group of people. They want to find out if this is a better way of reporting symptoms.

When in the trials database, click on both the recruiting and closed tabs at the top of the page.

Follow up

Doctors don’t yet know the best way to follow up women with gynaecological cancers so there may be differences in the care that women receive.

Researchers think a new nurse led approach, carried out mainly over the telephone, could benefit women following their cancer treatment. Half of the women in this study will have nurse led follow up care. The other half will have doctor led hospital based appointments, this is standard follow up care at the moment.

In another study, doctors want to find out the best way to provide follow up for women with gynaecological cancers. Researchers will talk to women who have had treatment to find out what kind of follow up they would like. They will also talk to their carers, family members or friends.

They want to find out what areas of follow up care are important to women and their carers.

Living with vulva cancer

Controlling symptoms

Researchers are looking at how well a type of treatment called HIFU can control symptoms of women’s cancer that has come back. HIFU stands for high intensity focused ultrasound. It uses high frequency sound waves which deliver a strong beam to a specific part of the cancer and kills some cells. It might help with symptoms such as pain or bleeding.

Rehabilitation

Following treatment, you might have physical or emotional problems which can affect your quality of life. Researchers want to know if offering 2 planned rehabilitation sessions can help women return to as normal life as possible. At the moment doctors refer people to the rehabilitation services when a problem arises.

Support following treatment

Researchers in one study are looking at how patients cope after their diagnosis and treatment for cancer. They want to find out what their physical and psychological needs are. To get this information patient attended group meetings to talk about their treatment and how it affected them and their families. 

The results may help doctors plan how they can best support and manage the needs of people following their treatment.

When in the trials database, click on both the recruiting and closed tabs at the top of the page.

Last reviewed: 
11 Jun 2019
  • Cancer Research UK clinical trials database
    Accessed April 2019

  • 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,

  • Activity, safety, and feasibility of cidofovir and imiquimod for treatment of vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (RT3VIN): a multicentre, open-label, randomised, phase 2 trial
    Amanda Tristram and Others
    The Lancet Oncology, 2014. Vol 15, Issue 12, P1361-1368

  • Recurrence of vulval intraepithelial neoplasia following treatment with cidofovir or imiquimod: results from a multicentre, randomised, phase II trial (RT3VIN)
    CN Hurt and others
    International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 2018.  Pages 1171-1175

  • ClinicalTrials.gov 
    US National Library Of Medicine
    Accessed May 2019

     

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