vulvar cancer
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What is Vulvar Cancer?

Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that develops on the outer surface of the female genitalia. The vulva is the skin that covers the urethra, vagina, clitoris, and labia. It runs from the anus to about an inch below the pubic hairline.

Vulvar cancer can affect any portion of the external organs, however, it most commonly affects the labia majora or minora. Cancer of the vulva is an uncommon disease that accounts for 0.6 percent of all malignancies in women and can develop slowly over time.

Types

Vulvar cancer comes in various forms:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma – It damages the skin’s flat, outer layers. Squamous cells are flat cells that resemble fish scales in medicine. The initial symptoms that are visible take several years. Source
  • Vulvar melanoma – It manifests itself as a black area of discoloration. This form of cancer has a significant risk of spreading to other parts of the body, a process known as metastasis. It may harm younger women. Source
  • Adenocarcinoma – It develops in glandular tissue, and in this case, the cells line the vulva glands. It is responsible for a very small proportion of vulvar malignancies. Source
  • Sarcoma – It develops in connective tissue. The majority of these tumors are malignant. It is extremely rare. Source
  • Verrucous carcinoma – This is a kind of squamous cell cancer that appears as a slow-growing wart. Source
Vulvar melanoma

Causes

In general, experts believe that cancer arises when a cell’s DNA undergoes alterations (mutations). It can, however, occur in women aged 40 or younger. Vulvar cancer is believed to be linked to genital warts, a sexually transmitted illness caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).

Risk Factors

Although the actual cause of vulvar cancer is unknown, several factors, such as the following, tend to raise your risk of developing the condition:

  • Age after 40
  • Being infected with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Infection with HIV
  • Smoking
  • Having a weak immune system
  • Having a history of vulvar precancerous conditions
  • Having a skin problem that affects the vulva.
  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia

Symptoms

Although each woman’s symptoms may vary, the following are the most common ones:

  • Itching all the time
  • Color and appearance changes in the vulva
  • Bleeding or discharge that is not caused by menstruation
  • Severe stinging, itchiness, or pain
  • An open wound that lasts longer than a month
  • The skin of the vulva is white and rough.

Vulvar cancer symptoms can resemble those of other illnesses or disorders. 

Diagnosis

Vulvar cancer is detected through biopsy, which involves removing a small sample of tissue for examination in a lab by a pathologist. The only method to find out whether you have vulvar cancer is to obtain a biopsy.

A lit, magnifying device called a colposcopy is used to see the vulva, vagina, and cervix more clearly. During a vulvar and pelvic examination, the colposcope can be used to see the tissue.

Treatment

Cancer of the vulva can be treated with:

  • Laser surgery: In this procedure, aberrant cells are eliminated by a strong light beam. The beam can be focused on particular bodily areas without needing to make a significant incision (cut).
  • Excision: Removal of the cancerous cells and a portion of healthy tissue surrounding them.
  • Vulvectomy: Surgical removal of entire vulvar tissues. The size and location of the lesion determine how much tissue is removed.
  • Radiation therapy: To fight cancer, X-rays, gamma rays, and charged particles are employed.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of anticancer medications to treat malignant cells.
  • Biologic therapy: It is a sort of treatment that uses lab-created or naturally occurring chemicals to boost your immune system or fight cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: This is a cancer treatment that employs the patient’s immune system to combat the disease. Substances produced by the body or created in a laboratory are used to augment, enhance, or restore the body’s natural anti-cancer defenses. Source

When to see the doctor

If you have any persistent symptoms that concern you, make an appointment with your primary care physician or gynecologist. Consult your doctor about your risk factors for vulvar cancer and other pelvic cancers to decide the best screening schedule for you. With the use of these tests, your doctor can visibly inspect your vulva and manually check your internal reproductive organs for anomalies.

Prevention

The following actions can lower the risk of acquiring vulvar cancer:

  • Wait till you’re in your late teens or older to have sex.
  • The HPV vaccine, which offers defense against the virus strains estimated to be responsible for the majority of occurrences of vulvar cancer, is an option for kids and teenagers.
  • Condoms may reduce your chances of developing HPV, but they may not provide complete protection.
  • Get Pap tests regularly.
  • Quit smoking. 

Also Read: HPV: Symptoms, Causes, Prevention, and Treatment