Vulvar cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the vulva.
Vulvar cancer forms in a woman’s external genitalia. The vulva includes the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris (sensitive tissue between the lips), and the opening of the vagina and its glands.
Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips. Less often, cancer affects the inner vaginal lips or the clitoris.
Vulvar cancer usually develops slowly over a period of years. Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This precancerous condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) or dysplasia. Because it is possible for VIN or dysplasia to develop into vulvar cancer, treatment of this condition is very important.
HPV infection and older age can affect the risk of developing vulvar cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. People who think they may be at risk should discuss this with their doctor. Risk factors for vulvar cancer include the following:
Having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
Possible signs of vulvar cancer include bleeding or itching.
Vulvar cancer often does not cause early symptoms. When symptoms occur, they may be caused by vulvar cancer or by other conditions. A doctor should be consulted if any of the following problems occur:
A lump in the vulva.
Itching that does not go away in the vulvar area.
Bleeding not related to menstruation (periods).
Tenderness in the vulvar area.
Tests that examine the vulva are used to detect (find) and diagnose vulvar cancer.
The following tests and procedures may be used:
Physical exam and history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking the vulva for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patient’s health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
Biopsy: The removal of cells or tissues from the vulva so they can be viewed under a microscope by a pathologist to check for signs of cancer.
Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
The prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options depend on the following:
The stage of the cancer.
The patient’s age and general health.
Whether the cancer has just been diagnosed or has recurred (come back).