Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer occurring on the vulva, the other surface area of a woman’s urethra, vagina, as well as the clitoris, and the labia.
Vulvar cancer generally forms as a lump or sore on the vulva, which might lead to itching. Although it may occur at any age, it is usually diagnosed in other adults.
There might not be any symptoms early on, but over time, you might develop few symptoms which can include:
- A change in the color of your vulva
- Unusual growths or bumps that may be pink, red, or white as well as feel rough or thick
- A change in how a mole looks
- Thickened skin on the vulva
- Pain, soreness, or burning
- Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
- An open sore
- Itching that refuses to go away
- Pain during urination
Sometimes, these can be signs of other conditions, and therefore it is important that you talk to your doctor if you notice any of these problems.
Causes & risk factors
Although what exactly causes vulvar cancer is not known, certain risk factors increase your chances of developing it. Some of them include:
- Age- Over half of the cases are in women are over the age of 70.
- HIV or AIDS
- A family history of melanoma
- Melanoma or unusual moles
- A history of unusual Pap tests
- A precancerous condition such as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN)- These are changes in tissue or cells that can occur years before you get diagnosed with cancer.
- Vaginal or cervical cancer
- Smoking, especially if you’ve also had HPV
- Lichen sclerosus, a condition that makes the vulvar skin thin as well as itchy
Some tests and procedures that are used to diagnose vulvar cancer include:
Examining your vulva
Using a special magnifying device for examining the vulva
Removing a sample of tissue for testing
This process, also known as a biopsy, involves removing a sample of skin on your vulva for testing. During a biopsy procedure, the area is numbed with a local anesthetic and a scalpel or other special cutting tool is used to remove all or part of the suspicious area.
Examination of your pelvic area for cancer spread
Images of your chest or abdomen might help to show whether your cancer has spread to those areas. Imaging tests generally include X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computerized tomography (CT), and positron emission tomography (PET).
The stages of vulvar cancer are indicated from I to IV, with the lowest stage indicating cancer that is limited to the vulva. By stage IV, the cancer is considered advanced and has most likely spread to nearby areas.
Treatment options for vulvar cancer can depend on the type, stage as well as location of cancer, as well as your overall health and preferences.
Some of the types of surgeries for treating this condition include:
Ultrasound surgical aspiration
In this method, a laser is used to cut into or take out any affected tissue such as your lymph nodes, part of your vulva, or any other organs. In cases of invasive tumors, this treatment might not be used.
It is noteworthy that there are some risks of complications that might occur with surgery, such as infection as well as healing around the incision. Removal of lymph nodes might cause fluid retention, as well as leg swelling, a condition which is termed as lymphedema.
Other than surgeries, there are a few other treatments, which might be used as well, such as:
In order to reduce your risk of vulvar cancer, it is important to reduce the risk of the sexually transmitted infection HPV.
Using a condom during intercourse can reduce the risk. You may also consider getting the HPV vaccine.