What is vulvar cancer?
The vulva is the outer surface of a woman’s genitals. It’s located at the opening of the vagina (the birth canal). Normally, cells in the body will grow and divide to replace old or damaged cells. This growth is usually precise. Once enough cells are produced to replace the old ones, normal cells stop dividing. Tumors occur when there is an error and cells continue to grow uncontrollably. Vulvar cancer is cancerous cell growth that begins on the outer skin of a woman’s genitals.
Vulvar cancer is rare and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Successful treatment depends on age, stage and location of cancer, and other factors.
What are the symptoms of vulvar cancer?
The first symptom of vulvar cancer is usually an itchy or bleeding lump or sore that doesn’t go away. Other symptoms in the genital area may include:
- Skin changes
- Wart-like growths
- Pain and tenderness
- Burning, pain or itching
- Rawness and sensitivity
What causes vulvar cancer?
The exact causes of vulvar cancer aren’t known. Vulvar cancer usually affects women over 65 years old, however it can develop at a younger age. Risk factors for vulvar cancer may include:
- Weakened immune system
- Family history of melanoma
- HPV (human papilloma virus) infection
How is vulvar cancer diagnosed?
First, your doctor will learn your and your family’s medical history and perform a physical exam. If you have a growth that your doctor suspects to be cancerous, he or she will perform or order one or more of the following tests:
- Imaging tests such as CT scan, CAT scan, PET scan, MRI or X-ray
- Colposcopy (vulvar exam to look for abnormal cells)
- Biopsy (removing a tiny piece of tissue for examination)
To learn how severe the cancer may be, your doctor will classify it by stage and grade.
How is vulvar cancer treated?
Surgery is the main treatment for vulvar cancer. Other treatments may include:
- Radiation therapy
- Clinical trials (experimental treatments)
Your treatment will depend on age, overall health, cancer stage, cancer size and location, and other factors.