What is vulvar cancer?
Vulvar cancer is a cancer that occurs on the outer surface of female genitalia called the vulva, which is the skin around the urethra and vagina. It is usually a lump or sore, and it tends to affect older females.
There are two types of this cancer: vulvar squamous cell carcinoma and vulvar melanoma. The former makes up the majority of cases of vulvar cancer and begins in the thin, flat cells on the surface of the vulva. The latter begins in pigment-producing cells.
This cancer also has four stages. Stage I means that the cancer is confined to a tumor between the vaginal opening and anus. Stage II sees tumors that have spread to nearby structures like the urethra, vagina, and anus. In stage III cancer spreads to the lymph nodes, and in stage IV cancer has spread extensively through the lymph nodes and possibly distant parts of the body.
What are the symptoms of vulvar cancer?
Common signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer include:
- Persistent itchiness
- Bleeding not caused by menstruation
- Color changes or thickening of the skin
- Lumps, wart-like bumps, or open sores
What causes vulvar cancer?
The cause of this cancer is unknown, but there are risk factors that may increase one’s chance of developing it. They include age, as vulvar cancer is usually diagnosed around 65, smoking, being exposed to HPV, a weakened immune system, a history of precancerous conditions in the vulva, and having skin conditions that involve the vulva.
How is vulvar cancer diagnosed?
A physical exam of the vulva is the first step in obtaining a diagnosis, and a magnifying device will most likely be used. A biopsy is the last step in confirming a diagnosis. After vulvar cancer is the confirmed diagnosis, doctors will perform tests to evaluate the extent of the cancer. These tests are usually an examination of the pelvic area, MRIs, CT scans, and PET scans.
What are the treatments for vulvar cancer?
Surgery is an option for the treatment of vulvar cancer. In earlier stages surgery removes cancerous and some of the surrounding healthy tissue. In later stages surgery may remove part of or the entire vulva. If it has spread to the lymph nodes, then surgery may be used to remove those as well. Radiation and chemotherapy are other methods of treatment, and they may be used to shrink the tumor before surgery.
There are ways to reduce the risk of developing this cancer, which all include limiting the chance of contracting HPV. Getting an HPV vaccine and using condoms during sex are both ways to reduce the risk of HPV. Regular pelvic exams are also recommended, as they can aid in early diagnosis.