Vulvar cancer is a form of cancer in which the abnormal cell growth originates on the external female genitalia.
About Vulvar Cancer
The vulva is comprised of the outermost part of the vagina (the vestibule), the labia majora (outer “lips”), labia minora (inner “lips”), and the clitoris. Vulvar cancer describes any cancer that affects these tissues, most often originating in the labia minora or labia majora. The condition makes up 6% of all cancers of the female reproductive system in the United States.
Types of vulvar cancer:
Vulvar cancer is classified based on the vulvar tissue in which the condition first develops.
Types of vulvar cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: The most common form of vulvar cancer, originating in skin cells known as squamous cells. Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma is sometimes preceded by a precancerous condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).
- Bartholin gland carcinoma: Cancer of the Bartholin glands found near the vaginal opening.
- Melanoma: Cancer in the cells that give skin its pigment.
- Sarcoma: Cancer that begins in the connective tissue of the vulva.
- Paget Disease of the Vulva: A rare vulvar disease that can be associated with cancers elsewhere in the body or in the vulva
- Basal cell carcinoma: Because this cancer affects the parts of skin that are exposed to the sun, this is the least common form of vulvar cancer.
Symptoms of Vulvar Cancer
Different forms of vulvar cancer are associated with different symptoms.
Symptoms of vulvar cancer may include:
- A lump or abnormal mole on the vulva
- Vulvar bleeding
- Vulvar itching or pain
- Vulvar skin that is thicker or differently colored than the surrounding skin
- Warts or sores on the vulva
Risk Factors for Vulvar Cancer
Different forms of vulvar cancer are associated with different risk factors.
Risk factors for vulvar cancer may include:
- Health history: HIV, lichen sclerosis and prior melanomas and genital cancers are linked to vulvar cancer. HPV infection is associated with a higher risk of vulvar cancer as well as a precursor to vulvar cancer known as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Chronic inflammation can also lead to VIN.
- Personal history: Smoking can increase your risk for vulvar cancer.
Diagnosing Vulvar Cancer
If a doctor has reason to suspect vulvar cancer based on abnormalities during a pelvic exam, they will perform a biopsy, collecting vulvar tissue for examination by a pathologist. In some cases, your doctor may utilize imaging methods such as computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or positron emission tomography (PET) scan to detect vulvar cancer.
Treating Vulvar Cancer
Your treatment will depend on your type of vulvar cancer, disease progression, and personal preference. Options may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or a combination of approaches. Your doctor will work with you to determine the best course of action.
Care Team Approach
Patients are cared for by a dedicated multidisciplinary care team, meaning you will benefit from the expertise of multiple specialists across a variety of disciplines. Our gynecologic oncologists work alongside a team of women’s health experts, including radiation oncologists, pathologists, radiologists, oncofertility specialists, onco-psychiatrists, genetic counselors, physical therapists, dietitians, social workers, and more, to provide unparalleled care for patients every step of the way.
We collaborate with our colleagues at the Dell Medical School and The University of Texas at Austin to utilize the latest research, diagnostic, and treatment techniques, allowing us to provide you with world-class, personalized cancer treatment. Depending on your specific needs, your treatment may include combinations of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and/or immunotherapy or other targeted therapy.
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