The vulva is the external part of the female genitals, including the clitoris, the vaginal lips, the opening to the vagina, and the surrounding skin and tissue. Most vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinoma. This type of cancer begins in squamous cells (thin, flat skin cells) and is usually fou
Signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer may include:
- Itching that doesn't go away
- Pain and tenderness
- Bleeding that isn't from menstruation
- Skin changes, such as color changes or thickening
- A lump, wart-like bumps or an open sore (ulcer)
It's not clear what causes vulvar cancer. In general, doctors know that cancer begins when a cell develops mutations in its DNA. The mutations allow the cell to grow and divide rapidly. The cell and its offspring go on living when other normal cells would die. The accumulating cells form a tumor that may be cancerous, invading nearby tissue and spreading to other parts of the body.
Vulvar cancer treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Sometimes vulvar cancer surgery requires removing the entire vulva. The earlier vulvar cancer is diagnosed, the less likely an extensive surgery is needed for treatment.
SurgerySurgery used to treat vulvar cancer include:
- Removing the cancer and a margin of healthy tissue (excision).
- Removing a portion of the vulva (partial vulvectomy).
- Removing the entire vulva (radical vulvectomy).
- Extensive surgery for advanced cancer. If cancer has spread beyond the vulva and involves nearby organs, the doctor may recommend removing all of the vulva and the involved organs in a procedure called pelvic exenteration. The surgeon may remove the lower colon, rectum, bladder, cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries and nearby lymph nodes depending where the cancer has spread.
Radiation therapyRadiation therapy uses high-powered energy beams, such as X-rays, to kill cancer cells. Radiation therapy for vulvar cancer is usually administered by a machine that moves around the body and directs radiation to precise points on the skin (external beam radiation). Radiation therapy is sometimes used to shrink large vulvar cancers in order to make it more likely that surgery will be successful. If cancer cells are discovered in the lymph nodes, the doctor may recommend radiation to the area around the lymph nodes to kill any cancer cells that might remain after surgery.
ChemotherapyFor women with advanced vulvar cancer that has spread to other areas of the body, chemotherapy may be an option. Sometimes chemotherapy is combined with radiation therapy to shrink large vulvar cancers in order to make it more likely that surgery will be successful.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides information, US statistics, and resources related to vaginal and vulvar cancer. Globe-athon to End Women's Cancer offers a collection of educational video lectures for the general public in which experts cover a variety of topics related to women's cancer. The National Cancer Institute is a reliable source for in-depth information about many cancers including treatment of vulvar cancer.
Global Cancer Observatory Fact Sheet on worldwide incidence, mortality and prevalence of vulvar cancer. The Global Cancer Observatory is an interactive web-based platform presenting global cancer statistics to inform cancer control and research. It uses data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer which is a specialized agency of the World Health Organization.