Vulvar cancer occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia. Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. Though it can occur at any age, vulvar cancer is most commonly diagnosed in older women.
Surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue is usually involved in vulvar cancer treatment. Sometimes surgery requires removing the entire vulva. The earlier vulvar cancer is diagnosed, the less likely an extensive surgery is needed for treatment.
Signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer may include:
- Pain and tenderness
- A lump, wart-like bumps or an open sore (ulcer)
- Skin changes, such as color changes or thickening
- Itching that doesn't go away
- Bleeding that isn't from menstruation
It's not clear what causes vulvar cancer. In general, doctors know that cancer begins when a cell develops mutations in its DNA. The accumulating cells form a tumor that may be cancerous, invading nearby tissue and spreading to other parts of the body.
A treatment plan is designed by the doctor to suit the most effective treatment plan. The most common types of vulvar cancer are:
- Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma, which cancer begins in the thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vulva. Most vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
- Vulvar melanoma, which begins in the pigment-producing cells found in the skin of the vulva.
The exact cause of vulvar cancer isn't known, but certain factors appear to increase the risk of the disease, including:
- Increasing age.
- Being exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
- Having a history of precancerous conditions of the vulva.
- Having a skin condition involving the vulva.
The news that a patient has vulvar cancer can cause depression, which can be treated additionally.
Having the lymph nodes in the groin removed can sometimes disrupt the lymphatic system. One of the functions of the lymphatic system is to drain away excess fluid from the body, so removing them can lead to a build-up of fluid in the tissue. This in turn can cause certain body parts to swell.
To reduce the risk of vulvar cancer, reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections such as HPV and HIV. This means:
- Limit the number of sexual partners.
- Use a condom every time you have sex.
- Consider the HPV vaccine.