Vulvar Cancer – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, And Treatment


What is vulvar cancer?
Vulvar cancer is cancer that grows in the vulva. The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals. Vulvar cancer most often affects the labia, the folds of skin outside the vagina. In some cases, vulvar cancer starts on the clitoris or in glands on the sides of the vaginal opening.

Vulvar cancer is rare.

What causes vulvar cancer?
What causes vulvar cancer is not known to doctors and scientists. What is known is women with a condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) have a high risk of developing vulvar cancer that spreads.

Most vulvar cancers begin in skin cells called squamous cells. The following are the other types of vulvar cancers:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma
  • Melanoma
  • Sarcoma

The following conditions or factors may increase your risk for vulvar cancer:

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV, or genital warts) infection in women under age 50
  • Chronic skin changes such as lichen sclerosis or squamous hyperplasia in women over age 50
  • History of cervical cancer or vaginal cancer
  • Smoking

What are the symptoms of vulvar cancer?
Skin changes and long-term itching of the vagina are the main symptoms of vulvar cancer. There may be itching around the vagina for years and sometimes may also have bleeding. Some women with vulvar cancer have no symptoms.

The following skin changes may occur around the vulva in women with vulvar cancer:

  • A bump or skin thickening
  • Ulcer (skin sore)
  • Mole or freckle, which may be pink, red, white, or gray

The following are the other symptoms of vulvar cancer:

  • Pain or burning with urination
  • Pain with intercourse
  • Unusual odor

How is vulvar cancer diagnosed?
The will perform a physical exam and review your symptoms. The physical exam includes the pelvic exam to look for any skin changes. The doctor may order the following tests to diagnose vulvar cancer:

  • Biopsy
  • CT scan or MRI of the pelvis to look for cancer spread

How is vulvar cancer treated?
The treatment for vulvar cancer involves removing the cancer cells with surgery. Surgery is also used to remove the lymph nodes in the groin area if the tumor is large (more than 2 cm) or has grown deeply into the skin.

Radiation, with or without chemotherapy, is recommended to treat advanced tumors.

If vulvar cancer returns later, it is also treated with radiation with or without chemotherapy.

This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.

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