Vulvar Cancer facts
The vulva is a part of the reproductive system. It comprises the external parts of the genitalia. The labia minora, which is found at the front of the vagina, meets to form a fold of skin, known as the prepuce. Beneath this skin lies the clitoris, a highly sensitive tissue that swells with blood when a woman is sexually stimulated. At the lower end of the vagina known as the fourchette is where the labia minora meets. All these external genital parts are prone to vulvar cancer.
Vulvar cancer is one of those cancers in women’s reproductive system, but this one is a rare type of cancer. This is a malignancy that occurs anywhere of the external organs, but it often affects the labia minora and labia majora. It is a type of cancer that forms in the vulva. It is slowly growing over many years. Precancerous cells grow on the external genitalia, which is referred to as the vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), or dysplasia. This can be prevented from leading into cancer.
TYPES AND FORMS
- Squamous Cell Carcinomas. It composes 90% of the vulva cancer, and slowly develops over several years.
- Melanoma. It is considered as the second type of vulvar cancer, and is often found in the clitoris or labia minora. This forms from cells that produce pigment to determine the color of the skin. An approximately 5% to 8% of melanomas form in the vulva, specifically in the clitoris and labia minora.
- Adenocarcinoma. It is a type of vulvar cancer that develops from glands; some of these glands are Bartholins glands. These are mucus-like fluid produced at the opening of the vagina. But this type of vulvar cancer can also develop from sweat glands of the skin of the vulva.
- Paget’s disease. It is a type of vulvar cancer wherein 20% to 25% of adenocarcinoma cells are present in the vulvar skin. The remaining percentage of cancer is found on the top layer of the vulvar skin, which does not involve the tissues underneath the skin.
- Sarcomas. It is a type of vulvar cancer that only comprises less than 2% of the cancer. It is a tumor of the connective tissues found under the vulvar skin, and it grows rapidly. This type of cancer occurs even in childhood.
- Verrucous Carcinoma. This type of vulvar cancer looks like a large wart, and it can be determined through biopsy. It is a slowly growing subtype of the squamous cell carcinoma, which is more likely to give out a good prognosis.
- Basal cell carcinoma. This is the most common type of cancer that occurs in the skin exposed to sun. It rarely develops in the vulva.
Vulvar cancer may not show any symptoms. But several women do experience symptoms, such as:
- Vulvar itching
- An abnormal change of color of the vulvar skin.
- Change in texture of the vulvar skin. It can be scalier, thicker, bumpier, or rougher than the surround skin.
- Bumps, vulvar ulcer, or cauliflower-like growths
- Pain when urinating
- Burning feeling on the vulva
- Vaginal bleeding and unusual discharge
- Enlarged glands in the groin
Melanoma, on the other hand, show different symptoms such as a new mole found on the vulva or a change in the original mole. It can be asymmetrical and irregular in color. A ¼ inch wide mole is also a sign of a melanoma type of vulvar cancer.
The cause of vulvar cancer is still unknown, but scientists were able to identify some risk factors that can lead to vulvar cancer. But it does not mean that the higher the risk factors of a woman can already get a vulvar cancer. Some women may have less risk factor, but still develop a vulvar cancer. Here are some of the risk factors a woman should be aware of:
- Women during the post-menopausal period or those who are 50 years and older are a high risk for the most common vulvar type of cancer, the squamous cell carcinoma.
- Human papillomaviruses (HPV)
- Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), a condition that causes change in the vulvar lining cells.
- Lichen scierosus that causes itchiness and thinness of the vulvar skin.
- Family history of melanoma
- Chronic inflammation of the vulva
- HIV infection
- Low socio-economic status
A specific treatment for vulvar cancer is determined based on the stage of the cancer. Here is a summary of vulvar cancer treatment:
- Laser Surgery. This is a type of surgical procedure that uses a lightbeam to destroy abnormal cells. It can be applied directly to the cancer-affected areas of the body without causing a large incision.
- Excision. It is a surgical procedure that kills cancer cells and removes the edge of normal appearing skin around the vulvar cancer.
- Vulvectomy. This procedure removes part of the vulvar tissues.
- Radiation Therapy