Vulvar Cancer Treatment

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Vulvar Cancer

Overview

Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that affects the female external genitals or, the vulva. The vulvar region includes:

  • The labia – these are the inner and outer lips of the vagina,
  • The clitoris, and
  • The opening of the vagina,
  • The mons pubis: This is the soft area in front of the pubic bones that get covered with hair during puberty
  • The perineum: It is the patch of skin between the vulva and the anus

Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. It can also affect the glands in and around the vaginal opening. As the cancer spreads, it also starts affecting the outer lips of the vagina and the other parts of the vulva. Though it can occur at any age, vulvar cancer is most commonly diagnosed in older adults.


Cancers of these types undergo a slow growth, starting as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, which happens when the healthy skin cells around the vulva undergo asymmetrical changes. In absence of treatment, such abnormal growth of cells results in cancer.


There are five types of vulvar cancers:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma is the most common. It starts in the skin cells. Some types of it are linked to HPV -- human papilloma virus. That’s an infection you get from having sex with someone who has it. Younger women are more likely to get vulvar cancer that’s linked to HPV.
  • Adenocarcinoma usually starts in cells located in the glands just inside the opening of the vagina. It can look like a cyst, so you might not pay attention to it at first.
  • Melanoma forms in cells that make pigment, or skin colour. You’re more likely to get it on skin that’s exposed to sun, but it can show up in other areas too, like the vulva. It makes up about 6 out of every 100 vulvar cancers.
  • Sarcoma starts in bone, muscle, or connective tissue cells. It differs from other vulvar cancers because it can happen at any age, including childhood.
  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common type of skin cancer. It usually appears on skin that’s exposed to sun. Very rarely, it occurs on the vulva.

Vulvar cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Sometimes vulvar cancer surgery requires removing the entire vulva. The earlier vulvar cancer is diagnosed, the less likely an extensive surgery is needed for treatment.

FAQs about Vulvar cancer

Symptoms

In its initial stages, symptoms of Vulvar cancer may be dormant. However, in early stages, they include:

  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Itching in the vulvar area
  • A discolored patch of skin
  • Pain with urination
  • Pain and tenderness in the vulvar area
  • A lump or wart-like sores on the vulva
Causes

While specific causes remain undetected, few of the likely reasons for development of vulvar cancer could be:

  • Age & Gender– It mostly occurs in females above 55 years of age.
  • Smoking habits
  • Due to vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia
  • Due to HIV or AIDS
  • Due to human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
  • Due to a history of genital warts
  • Due to a skin condition that can affect the vulva, such as lichen planus
Diagnosis Treatment