Secondary Logo

Journal Logo

Original Research

Surgical Treatments for Vulvar and Vaginal Dysplasia

A Randomized Controlled Trial

von Gruenigen, Vivian E. MD1,2; Gibbons, Heidi E. MS1; Gibbins, Karen BS2; Jenison, Eric L. MD3; Hopkins, Michael P. MD3

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.AOG.0000258783.49564.5c
  • Free

The prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV), associated with sexually transmitted disease, has led to increased risk of genital tract dysplasias and cancer.1 As the incidence of dysplasia has increased, new therapeutic approaches to prevent preinvasive disease from progressing into cancer have been developed. However, the first line of treatment for vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) and vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) is not well defined.2–4

Quality-of-life factors in relation to treatment have become increasingly important to patients, particularly to the younger population with this disease.5 Genital dysplasias may be treated with surgery or with topical medical therapy. Upper vaginectomy is a common treatment for higher-grade VAIN, due to the low rates of recurrence.3,6 Similarly, wide local excision is used to treat VIN.4,7,8 Although these incisional surgical procedures are highly effective at excising the dysplasia, adverse effects may include pain, postoperative complications, and physical deformity. Topical creams such as 5-fluorouracil (5-FU) and imiquimod may be incorporated into the treatment of VIN and VAIN, decreasing the need for surgery. With this approach, recurrence rates are high and the common adverse effects of pruritus and burning reduce patient compliance9–12 to these topical therapies. Although widely accepted, they do not have U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for use in lower genital tract dysplasia.13

Carbon dioxide (CO2) laser ablation remains a popular conservative surgical treatment for VIN and VAIN. Reported recurrence rates with this approach range from 25–50%.14–21 This outpatient treatment typically preserves sexual function with minimal adverse effects. Ultrasonic surgical aspiration is a more recent technique and is used commonly for intraoperative tumor debulking of ovarian cancer.22 The use of ultrasonic surgical aspiration in VAIN and VIN allows for the selective removal of diseased tissue while preserving the surrounding normal tissue and providing a specimen that can be sent to cytology for pathologic examination.22–24 More recent research suggests that recurrence of genital tract dysplasia treated with ultrasonic surgical aspiration may be similar to the laser, with recurrence rates that vary between 22% and 35%.24,25

Because both techniques are accepted surgical ablative modalities used in the treatment of vulvar and vaginal dysplasias, our objective was to compare recurrence rates during a 1-year follow-up period between the two surgical modalities and to compare postoperative adverse effects and pain.


Patients at University Hospitals Case Medical Center (Cleveland, OH) and NEOCUOM consortium hospitals, Akron General Medical Center, Summa Health System (Akron, OH), and Aultman Hospital (Canton, OH) with vulvar or vaginal dysplasias were asked to participate in the study from 2000 to 2005. Eligibility criteria included preoperative pathologic documentation to confirm the presence of dysplasia. All patients were seen preoperatively and treated by one of three gynecologic oncologists. Patients who were aged younger than 18 years or pregnant were not eligible for the study. Patients with dysplasia of grade 3/carcinoma in situ were included at the discretion of the treating surgeon.2,7,16,19 The study protocol was approved by the institutional review boards at all participating hospitals. Women were enrolled in the study by their treating physician and provided informed consent before being randomly assigned to one of the treatment modalities: CO2 laser vaporization or ultrasonic surgical aspiration. Age (50 years or younger and older than 50 years) and site location were used as stratification variables in the randomization assignment. Blocked randomization was carried out by a computer-generated table of random numbers corresponding to treatment assignment. Randomization assignment was given to the treating physician by personnel not involved in the patient’s medical care.

At the time of enrollment, race, marital status, tobacco use, history of sexually transmitted infection, diethylstilbestrol exposure, immunodeficiency, hysterectomy, history of genital tract neoplasia, and previous treatment were recorded. Cytology of the ultrasonic surgical aspiration aspirations were obtained from surgery if available. Human papillomavirus DNA was not collected, because the technology was not available at all institutions at the beginning of the study.

Carbon dioxide laser surgery was performed with the carbon dioxide laser. Depth of tissue destruction was 2 mm vaginally, 1 mm in nonhairy vulvar regions and 3 mm in hairy vulvar regions.19,20 Ultrasonic surgical aspiration was performed with the Cavitron Ultrasonic Surgical Aspirator Excel System (Valleylab, Boulder, CO). The handheld tool vibrates and contains separate irrigation and suction channels. Lesions were removed to the reticular layer of the dermis.23,26

Surgeries were performed in an outpatient setting, with patients given standard discharge instructions regarding postoperative care. The use of topical postoperative symptom control therapies (for example, silver sulfadiazine) were ordered at the discretion of the attending physician. One week after surgery, patients completed a postoperative pain assessment by using a visual analog scale pain scale.27 Patients were seen 2–4 weeks after surgery for follow-up to assess scarring, wound healing, and postoperative adverse effects. Scarring was assessed subjectively at the patient’s postoperative visit to maintain patient compliance. Patients were seen every 3 months for 1 year for physical examination and cytology to assess recurrence. Follow-up colposcopy and biopsies were used at the discretion of the attending physician.

We estimated initially that approximately 37.5% of patients receiving the laser surgery would experience recurrence within the 1-year period. A sample size estimate of 50 patients per group would provide 80% power to detect a decrease in this percentage of 66% or more to approximately 12% in the ultrasonic surgical aspiration group (alpha=0.05, two-tailed test). An additional 10 patients were enrolled (10%) to account for noncompliance and lost to follow-up. This study was designed and powered to test the hypothesis that there was a large difference in recurrence between the two surgical treatments and to assure adequate numbers to test the secondary objectives of pain and complications. Baseline demographic and clinical characteristics were compared between randomization groups by Student t test and χ2 comparison of proportions. Adverse effects were compared between groups by χ2 test. Analysis of recurrence during the 1-year follow-up period was performed using χ2 test and multiple logistic regression analysis. Statistical analysis of visual analog scale scores included Student t test and two-way analysis of variance. All analysis was performed using SPSS 14.0 (SPSS, Inc., Chicago, IL).


One hundred twenty-two women were invited to participate in this prospective study. One hundred ten women were enrolled and randomly assigned to laser or ultrasonic surgical aspiration surgical treatment. Ninety-six women completed the 1-year follow-up end point (87.3% overall). The flow of participants is shown in Figure 1. Fourteen patients (12.7%) were lost to follow-up during the course of the study. Clinical and demographic characteristics of patients completing the study by group are displayed in Table 1 (N=96). There were no differences between groups or between patients who completed the study compared with those who were noncompliant or lost to follow-up. The average age of patients was 48.5±1.3 years (range 18–82 years). The majority of patients had a prior hysterectomy and multifocal disease. Five patients were immunosuppressed. Sixteen patients had both vulvar and vaginal procedures.

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.:
Participant flow from enrollment to follow-up.von Gruenigen. Surgical Treatment of Vulvar and Vaginal Dysplasia. Obstet Gyncol 2007.
Table 1
Table 1:
Patient Demographics and Clinical Characteristics (N=96)

Adverse effects between the intervention groups were similar, including minor genital complaints of infection, dysuria, burning, adhesions, and discharge (Table 2, N=96). Patients who were treated for both vulvar and vaginal lesions were classified according to their primary disease location per attending physician. Differences in adverse effects and postoperative complaints were stratified for VAIN and VIN; however, statistical comparisons were made overall by laser or ultrasonic surgical aspiration because there were small numbers for subgroup comparisons. Presence of scarring was measured in vulvar patients only, and there was less scarring with the ultrasonic surgical aspiration (P<.01). Pain (overall in VIN and VAIN patients combined) was decreased in patients treated by ultrasonic surgical aspiration as compared with laser (P=.032, Table 2). Two-factor analysis of variance revealed that patients with VAIN had less pain than VIN patients (mean 15.8 compared with 42.2; F=18.6, P<.01 for group effect). There was no evidence of an interaction effect (P=.61).

Table 2
Table 2:
Adverse effects and Visual Analog Scale Pain Scores by Treatment Group

Overall recurrence rates for laser compared with ultrasonic surgical aspiration were similar (Table 3, N=96). Recurrence during the year after surgery was 24.4% with the ultrasonic surgical aspiration and 25.5% with the laser (relative risk 0.96, 95% confidence interval 0.64–1.50, number needed to treat 95.6). Recurrence rate was higher in VIN patients than in VAIN patients overall, regardless of treatment (16 of 44 [36.4%] compared with 8 of 52 [15.4%]; P=.018). Patients with VIN were younger (mean 53.7±1.59 compared with 42.3±1.94; 95% confidence interval of the difference 6.5–16.4; P<.001) and were more commonly smokers (27 of 44 [61.4%] compared with 17 of 52 [32.7%]; P=.001). Recurrence by surgical treatment in these two subgroups was similar; however power to detect a difference was low. Fifty-three percent of patients treated in this study had received prior therapy for intraepithelial disease (Table 1). There was no difference in the incidence of recurrence after surgical therapy between patients treated for new disease compared with recurrent disease. During the 1-year follow-up period, 24 patients demonstrated recurrence of disease, seven (29.2%) of whom demonstrated persistent disease at their first follow-up visit. All cytology aspirations from the ultrasonic surgical aspiration procedure were within one grade of cytology, with no invasive cancers found, thus this did not change management decisions. All surveillance biopsies after surgery correlated with vaginal Pap tests.

Table 3
Table 3:
Recurrence by Treatment Group

Analysis of recurrence or persistence of disease by multiple logistic regression showed age to be significantly associated with recurrence (Table 4). Disease location, grade, prior history of dysplasia, and smoking history were not significantly associated with recurrence when controlling for age.

Table 4
Table 4:
Recurrence of Dysplasia (N=96, Multiple Logistic Regression)


Human papilloma virus is the most common sexually transmitted disease and leads to an increased risk of vulvar and vaginal condylomas, dysplasias, and cancer. Both vulvar and vaginal dysplasias may be treated by surgical excision, laser, electrocoagulation, or ultrasonic surgical aspiration. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia has also been treated with imiquimod, despite not having FDA approval.11,13 In addition, VAIN has been treated by 5-FU or radiation.28,29 Other times, clinicians may use multiple treatment combinations, for example, laser of the vagina followed by 5-FU.29 Cosmetic concern and pain are important issues for women with a disease that is naturally prone to recurrence and may even affect quality of life.5 The future implementation of the HPV vaccine may decrease the incidence; however, the presently exposed population will need treatment of genital dysplasias for years to come. This prospective randomized trial of CO2 laser compared with ultrasonic surgical aspiration revealed that scarring and pain were decreased with the ultrasonic surgical aspiration; however, there were no differences in recurrence rates.

Even though VIN is more common than VAIN, it seems as though the risk factors, treatment, and recurrence rates are similar despite some differences in treatment.2,3 Recurrence rates range from approximately 10–50%, with lower recurrence rates in those receiving surgical excision.3,21,24,25 The adverse effect profile to any therapy is imperative when multiple choices are available to the clinician. Most studies evaluating the treatment of VIN and VAIN have been remiss in prospectively evaluating patient symptoms. Since the initiation of this protocol, improved measures have been developed to measure symptoms and quality of life.30 Treatment of VAIN and VIN may be complicated by pain, delayed wound healing, scarring, discharge, ulceration, vaginal shortening or stenosis, and sexual dysfunction.14,16,21,25,28,29 In this study there were statistically significant differences favoring the ultrasonic surgical aspiration for less scarring and pain.

The differences in scarring and pain may be related to the surgical tool. The depth of tissue destruction with the laser is operator dependent. Because VIN and VAIN are confined to 0.1 to 0.3 mm of surface epithelium, the laser may unnecessarily remove tissue deep to this layer, causing increased pain.19 Safeguards for the use of laser on the genital tract include brushing the epithelial surface followed by peeling the eschar with gauze, setting the laser on superpulse, and using a hand-held depth gauge to assess depth manually. The ultrasonic surgical aspiration may decrease depth damage secondary to enhancing the cleavage plain and resulting in the separation of the epithelium without disruption of the underlying stroma.26 The device aspirates the cells; therefore, peeling with gauze is unnecessary. The ultrasonic surgical aspiration does not work well below the surface epithelium, allowing an easier dissection plan. In addition, the ultrasonic surgical aspiration may provide less adjacent epithelial damage.26

Our study does not have the power to state that there is no difference in recurrence rate of dysplasia between the two modalities. However, with the available data it seems that if there are differences, they are minimal. We included vulvar and vaginal dysplasias for the power analysis, because the causes and treatments were similar. In addition, our recurrence rate may have increased with longer follow-up; however, we anticipate that this rate would be similar for both treatment groups.

Our results indicated that the ultrasonic surgical aspiration is less painful and has less scarring when compared with the laser and is the treatment of choice between the two modalities. Future studies should include standard measures for adverse effects and to measure quality of life.30


1. Bonvicini F, Venturoli S, Ambretti S, Paterini P, Santini D, Ceccarelli C, et al. Presence and type of oncogenic human papillomavirus in classic and in differentiated vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia and keratinizing vulvar squamous cell carcinoma. J Med Virol 2005;77:102–6.
2. Jones RW, Rowan DM, Stewart AW. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia: aspects of the natural history and outcome in 405 women. Obstet Gynecol 2005;106:1319–26.
3. Dodge JA, Eltabbakh GH, Mount SL, Walker RP, Morgan A. Clinical features and risk of recurrence among patients with vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. Gynecol Oncol 2001;83:363–9.
4. Thuis YN, Campion M, Fox H, Hacker NF. Contemporary experience with the management of vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia. Int J Gynecol Cancer 2000;10:223–7.
5. Reitano M. Counseling patients with genital warts. Am J Med 1997;102:38–43.
6. Indermaur MD, Martino MA, Fiorica JV, Roberts WS, Hoffman MS. Upper vaginectomy for the treatment of vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2005;193:577–80.
7. Jones RW, Rowan DM. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia III: a clinical study of the outcome in 113 cases with relation to the later development of invasive vulvar carcinoma. Obstet Gynecol 1994;84:741–5.
8. Bernstein SG, Kovacs BR, Townsend DE, Morrow CP. Vulvar carcinoma in situ. Obstet Gynecol 1983;61:304–7.
9. Haidopoulos D, Diakomanolis E, Rodolakis A, Voulgaris Z, Vlachos G, Intsaklis A. Can local application of imiquimod cream be an alternative mode of therapy for patients with high-grade intraepithelial lesions of the vagina? Int J Gynecol Cancer 2005;15:898–902.
10. imiquimod cream on high-grade vulval intraepithelial neoplasia. Gynecol Oncol 2002;85:67–70.
11. immiquimod cream in the primary treatment of vulva intraepithelial neoplasia grade 2/3. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2006;194:377–380.
12. Daly JW, Ellis GF. Treatment of vaginal dysplasia and carcinoma in situ with topical 5-fluorouracil. Obstet Gynecol 1098;55:350–2.
13. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Aldara (imiquimod) cream, 5%. Available at: Retrieved September 25, 2006.
14. Hoffman MS, Roberts WS, LaPolla JP, Fiorica JV, Cavanagh D. Laser vaporization of grade 3 vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1991;165:1342–4.
15. Sideri M, Spinaci L, Spolti N, Schettino F. Evaluation of CO(2) laser excision or vaporization for the treatment of vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia. Gynecol Oncol 1999;75:277–81.
16. Hoffman MS, Pinelli DM, Finan M, Roberts WS, Fiorica JV, Cavanagh D. Laser vaporization for vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia III. J Reprod Med 1992;37:135–7.
17. Yalcin OT, Rutherford TJ, Chambers SK, Chambers JT, Schwartz PE. Vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia: treatment by carbon dioxide laser and risk factors for failure. Eur J Obstet Gynecol Reprod Biol 2003;106:64–8.
18. Campagnutta E, Parin A, De Piero G, Giorda G, Gallo A, Scarabelli C. Treatment of vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VAIN) with the carbon dioxide laser. Clin Exp Obstet Gynecol 1999;26:127–30.
19. Julian TM, O’Connell BJ, Gosewehr JA. Indications, techniques, and advantages of partial laser vaginectomy. Obstet Gynecol 1992;80:140–3.
20. Wright VC, Davies E. Laser surgery for vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia: principles and results. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1987;156:374–8.
21. Hillemanns P, Wang X, Staehle S, Michels W, Dannecker C. Evaluation of different treatment modalities for vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN): CO(2) laser vaporization, photodynamic therapy, excision and vulvectomy. Gynecol Oncol 2006;100:271–5.
22. Wu AY, Sherman ME, Rosenshein NB, Erozan YS. Pathologic evaluation of gynecologic specimens obtained with the cavitron ultrasonic surgical aspirator (CUSA). Gynecol Oncol 1992;44:28–32.
23. Rader JS, Leake JF, Dillon MB, Rosenshein NB. Ultrasonic surgical aspiration in the treatment of vulvar disease. Obstet Gynecol 1991;77:573–6.
24. Miller BE. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia treated with cavitational ultrasonic surgical aspiration. Gynecol Oncol 2002;85:114–8.
25. Robinson JB, Sun CC, Bodurka-Bevers D, Im DD, Rosenshein NB. Cavitational ultrasonic surgical aspiration for the treatment of vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia. Gynecol Oncol 2000;78:235–41.
26. Rader JS, Rest EB, Farmer ER, Rosenshein NB. A comparison of wound healing after epithelial resection by ultrasonic surgical aspiration and ablation by the carbon dioxide laser. Gynecol Oncol 1992;46:351–6.
27. Jensen MP, Chen C, Brugger AM. Interpretation of visual analog scale ratings and change scores: a reanalysis of two clinical trials of postoperative pain. J Pain 2003;4:407–14.
28. Woodman CB, Mould JJ, Jordan JA. Radiotherapy in the management of vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia after hysterectomy. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 1988;95:976–9.
29. Krebs HB. Treatment of vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia with laser and topical 5-fluorouracil. Obstet Gynecol 1989;73:657–60.
30. Functional Assessment of Chronic Illness. Available at: Retrieved September 26, 2006.
© 2007 by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.