Usual-type vulval intraepithelial neoplasia: new evidence on treatment options

In this blog, Lynda Ware, Senior Fellow in General Practice for Cochrane UK, looks at a Cochrane Review on treatments for vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), a chronic pre-cancerous skin condition of the vulva, and Susan Cooper, Consultant Dermatologist, gives an expert commentary on the evidence and its application to practice.

Blog last checked 25 August 2022

Lynda Ware
Lynda Ware looks at new Cochrane evidence on treatment choices for VIN

Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a chronic pre-cancerous skin condition of the vulva, which has a peak incidence under the age of 50 but can occur at any age.

VIN can be classified into usual-type VIN (uVIN) and differentiated-type VIN (dVIN). Usual-type VIN is linked to high-risk Human Papilloma Virus (types 16, 18 and 31 are the most commonly associated) and precedes almost all squamous cell carcinomas in younger women, and differentiated-type VIN is associated with chronic skin conditions such as lichen sclerosus et atrophicus.

Treatment for uVIN may be by surgical excision or ablative techniques or by using medical treatments. The Cochrane Review Medical and surgical interventions for the treatment of usual-type vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (published January 2016) combines the protocols from two separate Cochrane Reviews Medical interventions for high-grade vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (published August 2015) and Surgical interventions for high-grade vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (published March 2014) to enable comparisons to be made between the various types of treatment.

What did the review find?

Six RCTs were found, involving 327 women, and five NRSs with 648 women. Five of the RCTs evaluated medical treatments (imiquimod, cidofovir, indole-3 carbinol) and the other six studies (one RCT and five NRSs) looked at surgical treatments or photodynamic therapy.

There is moderate to high quality evidence that topical treatment (imiquimod or cidofovir) may effectively treat about half of uVIN cases after a 16-week course but the evidence on whether this is sustained is limited. Smaller lesions are possibly more likely to respond. The relative risk of progression to vulval cancer is uncertain. Both imiquimod and cidofovir appear to be fairly well tolerated.

Low quality evidence from the best NRS indicates that there is little difference in the risk of recurrence between surgical excision and laser vaporisation.There is about a 50% chance of recurrence at one year with both interventions. Multifocal lesions are at greater risk of recurrence and progression.

There were no completed studies comparing medical with surgical treatment (one is ongoing).

An expert’s commentary on the Cochrane Review’s findings

Dr Susan Cooper, Consultant Dermatologist, Oxford University Hospitals Foundation Trust and Chair of the British Society for the Study of Vulval Disease writes:

Dr Susan Cooper
Susan Cooper welcomes new Cochrane evidence which will help doctors and patients consider treatment options for VIN

This review is welcome because the management of usual type vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (uVIN) is complex and challenging. Nomenclature has been difficult with VIN, once graded from 1-3, and now reclassified into usual type VIN (HPV related) and differentiated VIN (non-HPV related). A further recent WHO/International Society for the Study of Vulval Disease (ISSVD 2015) classification now re-terms usual type VIN as high grade squamous epithelial lesion or HSIL. Although this makes the literature confusing at times, ultimately it will help to ensure that the correct patients are enrolled into future studies as previous classifications may have included patients who would no longer be considered to have VIN today.

What are the treatment options for Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia?

In the past, surgical excision was the only treatment considered and many women underwent repeated surgery, despite a recurrence rate of 50% at one year. The current British Association for Sexual Health and HIV national guidelines on the management of vulval conditions states that surgical excision is the treatment of choice for VIN but medical management can be considered. There weren’t any head to head medical versus surgical treatment studies included in this review but it is heartening that there appears to be one such study underway that may help to answer this question. Imiquimod is the chief medical treatment and backed by a number of studies outlined in the review. Topical cidofovir is mentioned but it isn’t possible to prescribe this currently so it isn’t a realistic therapeutic option.

The real challenge is management of women with multifocal disease and recurrent disease. Women who are immunosuppressed, usually due to HIV infection or after transplantation, are especially difficult to manage. In these women, disease may be so extensive or recurrent that surgical treatment can be disfiguring. Medical options are really useful. The studies in the review included very small numbers of immununosuppressed women so it wasn’t possible for the authors to make any specific recommendations about treatment in these cases.

A joint approach is often helpful

Women with VIN may be seen by dermatologists, genitourinary medicine doctors, gynaecologists and gynae-oncologists, all of whom may have different approaches. A joint approach is often helpful. In practice, most specialist (often joint dermatology and gynae-oncology) clinics tend to do a mix and match approach, some surgical excisions, medical treatments and possibly laser too. Dermatologists have a great deal of experience in using Imiquimod for skin cancer and their advice can be helpful.

In Oxford I run a joint clinic for VIN patients with my colleague, Mr Pubudu Pathiraja , a consultant gynae-oncologist. We tend to advise excision for small symptomatic VIN lesions and always when there is any suspicion of invasive disease. We often discuss medical treatment if VIN is around the clitoris where excision might result in unacceptable anatomical changes, in multifocal disease or where the patient has a preference to avoid surgery. Some of our patients undergo both surgical and medical treatments.

It can be lonely and frightening to have Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia…

Patient reading sitting in the waiting room of a clinic
There is no specific support group for women with VIN

As a patient it can be lonely and frightening to have VIN as there is often no access to support services. Unlike patients with vulval cancer, patients with VIN do not routinely see the specialist cancer nurses, and their treatments are not listed or discussed at multidisciplinary team cancer meetings, although they may undergo very similar treatments to those women with invasive cancer. Surgery can be mutilating and disfiguring and psychological distress is common. Imiquimod application to the vulva is very painful and support with treatment might be beneficial as many women abandon treatment because of side effects. There is no specific support group for patients with VIN.

This Cochrane Review helps doctors who treat uVIN to consider a range of treatment options when choosing the appropriate treatment modality in partnership with their patient.

Susan Cooper and Lynda Ware have no conflict of interest in relation to this article.


Kaushik SPepas LNordin ABryant ADickinson HOLawrie TASurgical interventions for high-grade vulval intraepithelial neoplasiaCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 3. Art. No.: CD007928. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007928.pub3.

Lawrie TANordin AChakrabarti MBryant AKaushik SPepas LMedical and surgical interventions for the treatment of usual-type vulval intraepithelial neoplasiaCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2016, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD011837. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011837.pub2.

Pepas LKaushik SNordin ABryant ALawrie TAMedical interventions for high-grade vulval intraepithelial neoplasiaCochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2015, Issue 8. Art. No.: CD007924. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD007924.pub3.

Clinical Effectiveness Group, British Association for Sexual Health and HIV. 2014 UK national guideline on the management of vulval conditions. London: British Association for Sexual Health and HIV (BASHH); 2014. Available from:


Usual-type vulval intraepithelial neoplasia: new evidence on treatment options by Susan Cooper

is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International

8 Comments on this post

  1. I was diagnosed with vin 3 in February. I first told Dr about marks in December and she said it was VIN. I was seen by a consultant by the 13th January and had a wide local excision done on the 25th of January. I’m due to see the specialist in May (my margins were not clear). I’ve been suffering pain for a few weeks and now found a little lump near my operation scar and getting groin pain.
    I had kept quiet for 12yrs re the lesions I had and had no idea this existed. Going to call Dr’s next week for some advice. Just not sure what the next step will be but getting very anxious again. There seems no support out there for VIN and if you type in VIN all the cancer websites come up which is very scary! Sending be hugs to all of you in the same boat xxx

    Nikki B / Reply
  2. I was diagnosed with VIN about eighteen months ago. I have been dealing with vulvar cancer for twenty years. I was due to have a radical vulvectomy to get rid of all the skin that is effected but my oncologist had to leave for a family medical emergency and won’t be back. Now I have to find a plan B.

    Leila Johnson / Reply
  3. I had vin 2 two weeks ago now I vin 3 waiting to get in the cancer clinic where I live we only have 1 doctor that deals with it. If it spreads like that in 2 more weeks I will gave vin 4. I feel so alone can’t get any answers yet. I was told that I could have laser surgery or have all the skin removed. Don’t know what to do

    Sara McDaniels / Reply
  4. My VIN was initially diagnosed between stage II and III. I decided to go the Imiquimod treatment …. hoping to shrink it in preparation for surgery. The cream helped…. and yes, all 12 weeks (3x week) were very painful, but it stopped the daily burning and itching. I only had to deal with the night time torture of the cream as I would wash it off in the morning. My oncologist said everything looks good… so good that no surgery is required at this time….But that nagging burning and itching have returned, so I am about to go through my second time in 12 months. The worst side effect of the imiquimod was how horrible I felt the day after taking it…mostly flu like symptoms.

    Jackie / Reply
  5. I have vin 3 , I am on aldara cream and would like to know what the recommended length of time to use thisdrug ?

    Pat Burton / Reply
    • I think this is something you’ll need to ask your clinician.
      Best wishes,
      Sarah (Editor)

      Sarah Chapman / (in reply to Pat Burton) Reply
    • I was diagnosed with VINIII and just underwent a wide excision of the area. I was fortunate that the area of occurrence was not specifically on my genitalia but in the perianal area. I am currently recovering from the surgery which turned out to be more extensive than anticipated and recovery complicated by stitches pulling out days after surgery, not due to my activity but due to the nature of the tissue involved. Upon diagnosis my doctor’s immediate choice was surgery. She stated the other options were more painful, that being topical treatment and laser. I don’t know if this information helps except to let you know you are not alone in dealing with this condition.

      Karen Burge / (in reply to Pat Burton) Reply
    • I have vin3, its come back in the same area after having it removed 4 years ago.
      I havent been offered any other treatment other than surgery!
      Im dreading it.
      Are these creams available in the uk?

      Joanne Gregory / (in reply to Pat Burton) Reply

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