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Vulvar cancer

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As the name suggests, vulvar cancer occurs in the vulva- the external genital opening in females which includes the labia, clitoris and Bartholin's gland. It quite uncommon form of cancer and is usually found in older women.


Types of vulvar cancer

Squamous cell carcinoma- More than 90% of all cases of vulval cancer are of this type. It occurs in the outer layer of cells i.e. in the labia.

Adenocarcinoma- Less common form of vulvar cancer and it starts in the Bartholin’s glands 

Melanoma- About 2- 4 % of vulvar cancers are melanomas which occur in the clitoris or the labia minora.


Symptoms of vulvar cancer

During early stages many women do not have symptoms, however some might have symptoms which are: 

  • Burning sensation, itching and soreness in vulva
  • Ulcers and sores, skin rash, or warts in vulva
  • Redness or paleness in vulvar skin
  • Pelvic pain while urinating or having intercourse
  • Abnormal bleeding from vagina or vulva

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What causes vulvar cancer?

There’s no definitive cause of vulvar cancer. The cells become cancerous due to a mutation in the genetic material.

However there are several risk factors that make a woman vulnerable to vulvar cancer.

They are: 

  • As said before, older women i.e. above 65 years of age are at risk
  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), a precancerous stage marked by itching, soreness and burning of vulvar skin
  • Women with skin diseases like Paget’s disease, vulvar lichen sclerosus, etc.
  • Women who had been infected with HPV, HIV/AIDS
  • Smoking


When to see a doctor?

The aforementioned symptoms do not indicate a good health, especially when you observe bleeding from your genital area. Therefore, you must see a doctor on observing any abnormality.


Diagnosis of Vulvar cancer

During your medical visit, your doctor will check the risk factors, medical history and perform a physical examination on the vulva with the help of a magnifying glass. 

Vulvar biopsy would be done to confirm presence of cancer. Furthermore, imaging tests like CT scan, MRI, x ray etc. would be performed to know the extent of spread.


How is the staging done for vulvar cancer?

Just like any other form of cancer, vulvar cancer also has 4 stages which are described as:

State I – The tumour is confined to vulva only

Stage II – The tumour has started spreading to surrounding areas like urethra, vagina and anus

Stage III – The tumour has spread to lymph nodes

Stage IV – The cancer has become metastatic, has spread to bladder, rectum, and other distant organs of the body.


Treatment for vulvar cancer

The type of treatment plan will be decided by your doctor after considering stage of the cancer and your overall health.

Surgical options: Your doctor might perform a local excision to remove the cancerous tissue or tumour from the vulva. Other options for surgery include radical partial vulvectomy (a section of the vulva is removed) and radical entire vulvectomy (inner and outer labia and clitoris are removed).

Reconstruction surgery on the vulvar skin is also a treatment option.

Extensive surgery may be performed on the organs (anus, bladder, ovaries, cervix, lymph glands, etc) that have been infested with cancer. Some operations include pelvic exenteration and colostomy

Chemotherapy or radiation therapy or they might be clubbed for better results.

Surgery might also be combined with chemotherapy and radiation therapy to treat vulvar cancer.

Your doctor will schedule follow up check-ups and help you with those strategies to cope with the cancer.

Written by: healthplus24.com team
Date last updated: March 13, 2014

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