Vulvar Cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the vulva (in the external genitalia of women). Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips. Less often, cancer affects the inner vaginal lips, clitoris, or vaginal glands.
Signs & Symptoms
- A lump or growth on the vulva.
- Changes in the vulvar skin, such as color changes or growths that look like a wart or ulcer.
- Tenderness or itching in the vulvar area that does not go away.
- Bleeding not related to menstruation (periods).
Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over a number of years. Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Because it is possible for VIN to become vulvar cancer, it is very important to get treatment.
There are three primary types of treatment used for vulvar cancer. Your OHC doctor will help you determine the best care plan for you.
- Surgery is the most common treatment for vulvar cancer. The surgery includes removing the cancer with some surrounding normal vulvar tissue to obtain clear margins. Depending on the size of the cancer and the amount of tissue removed, you may need a plastic reconstructive procedure to rebuild the vulva.
- Chemotherapy is a cancer treatment that uses drugs to stop the growth of cancer cells, either by killing the cells or by stopping them from dividing.
- Radiation therapy is a cancer treatment that uses high-energy x-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells or keep them from growing.
- Vulvar pre-cancers (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or VIN) can also be treated with surgery, laser therapy or topical therapy.
Sentinel lymph node mapping may be used to detect whether cells have escaped a tumor and spread to the sentinel nodes. The sentinel nodes are the first lymph nodes into which the cancer is likely to have spread. Sentinel lymph node mapping and biopsy is performed as part of the surgery to remove the tumor. First, a dye is injected into the vulvar. The first lymph nodes that absorb the solution are identified as sentinel lymph nodes, because they are the first lymph nodes most likely to contain cancer cells if any spreading has occurred. The surgeon removes the sentinel nodes and sends them to a lab where a pathologist will look for cancer cells. If no cancerous cells are found, it’s a good sign that the cancer hasn’t spread. If cancer cells are found, it will change the stage and treatment.