About the disease
Vulvar cancer develops in the vulva, which is the opening of the female genitals. Cancerous cells of this type usually start to proliferate in the skin of the vulva’s opening.
The main cause of vulvar cancer is age. More than 50% of females diagnosed with this disease are older than 70. It can also be caused by the HPV virus, long-term smoking and continuous exposure of the skin to strong sunlight.
According to the American Cancer Society, vulvar cancer accounts for around 4% of all cancers of the female reproductive organs. It also accounts for 0.6% of all female cancers, which means it's relatively rare.
There are three main types of vulvar cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma develops on the labia. This is the most common type, accounting for almost 90% of all vulvar cancer cases.
- Adenocarcinoma develops in the gland cells and represents 8% of this cancer type.
- Melanoma develops in pigment-producing cells. This is the most rare type of this cancer, accounting for only 6% of all cases.
- Changes in the structure of the vulva
- Strange dark or red spots
- Lumps on the surface of the vulva
- Pain during sexual intercourse
- Painful urination
- Growths resembling genital warts
- A pelvic examination, which can be conducted during a usual check-up at the gynecologist, can identify changes in the vulva and other symptoms typical for this type of cancer.
- A biopsy can be performed to study a sample of a woman’s vulvar tissue to determine if there are any malignant cells.
- An endoscopy test, where a tube equipped with a tiny camera is inserted into the uterus to see if there are any intra vulvar changes.
- Partial vulvectomy is recommended in the beginning stages of vulvar cancer, when malignant cells have not yet metastasized and are concentrated in one place. In this case, a surgeon removes the affected part of the vulva.
- Radical vulvectomy and lymphadenectomy is performed if there are metastases in the lymph nodes. During such surgery, the damaged vulva is completely resected in a single-stage procedure. After this surgery, the patient needs to undergo rehabilitation to recover.
Although it takes time for you to recover from both types of vulvectomy, this surgery usually gives good results and you may expect to live a long life.