What is Vulval cancer?

Vulval cancer is cancer that starts in the vulva, the external genitalia.

The vulva is the area between the anus and the clitoris.

It includes:

  • The clitoris
  • The labia (inner lips) and clitoris
  • The opening of the vagina
  • The urethra (the tube through which urine passes)

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), vulval cancer is the most common type of cancer in women.

It’s also the most common type of cancer in men.

The NCI estimates that there will be around 2,250 new cases of vulvar cancer in 2021.

  • Vulval cancer can be a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention. If you have vulval cancer, your doctor will try to diagnose it as quickly as possible.
  • Treatment will depend on the type and stage of the cancer.

Symptoms of vulval cancer

Symptoms of vulval cancer may include:

  • A lump or swelling in the vulva
  • Pain in the vulva
  • Painful urination
  • Bleeding from the vagina
  • A feeling of heaviness in the pelvis
  • Vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • A feeling of heaviness in the pelvic area
  • A feeling of fullness in the pelvic area
  • A discharge from the vagina
  • Pain in the lower back
  • Swelling in the legs
  • Anemia
  • Pain in the lower abdomen

What causes vulval cancer?

The NCI explains that vulval cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the skin of the vulva.

The NCI adds that the most common risk factors for vulval cancer are:

  • Having a close female sexual partner
  • Having a vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) lesion, which is a type of pre-cancerous lesion
  • Having an infection with human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having HIV
  • Having an autoimmune disease
  • Being exposed to high levels of radiation
  • Having an immune disorder

Certain lifestyle choices can also increase your risk of vulval cancer.

These include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Drinking alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Having a diet that’s low in fruits and vegetables
  • Having a low intake of fiber
  • Having a diet that’s high in red meat and processed meat

How is vulval cancer diagnosed?

Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and medical history.

They’ll also perform a physical examination of the vulva and may use specific tests to help diagnose vulval cancer.

These tests may include:

  • A pelvic exam
  • A rectal exam
  • A colorectal exam
  • A mammogram

Next, your doctor will use one or more of the following tests to check for signs of vulval cancer:

  • Anoscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Excisional biopsy
  • Ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan
  • PET scan

How is vulval cancer treated?

Treatment for vulval cancer will depend on:

  • The type, stage, and grade of the cancer
  • Your age
  • Your general health
  • The location and size of the cancer
  • Your personal preferences and goals

Treatment may include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Targeted therapy
  • Hormone therapy

Your doctor will discuss the best treatment options with you.

What are the potential complications of vulval cancer?

Vulval cancer is a serious condition that requires treatment.

The NCI explains that vulval cancer can be fatal if it’s not diagnosed and treated in a timely manner.

The NCI adds that the risk of death from vulval cancer is highest in women under the age of 50 years.

The NCI also notes that vulval cancer is more likely to return if it’s not treated successfully.

What’s the outlook for people with vulval cancer?

The NCI explains that vulval cancer is a serious condition that requires immediate medical attention.

If your vulval cancer is diagnosed early, you may be able to treat it and have a good outlook.

As time goes on, you may need more treatment than you originally thought.

The NCI adds that the outlook for people with vulval cancer depends on:

  • The type and stage of the cancer
  • The age at which it’s diagnosed
  • Whether you have other health conditions
  • Your wishes

The outlook also depends on how the cancer is treated.

Recovery and outlook

Vulval cancer is a serious condition.

If you receive a diagnosis of vulval cancer, your doctor will help you manage your treatment.

Recovery will depend on the type and stage of the cancer.

Your doctor will give you advice about the best way to recover.

You may have to take time off from work or school, or limit your activities.

They may also recommend that you undergo chemotherapy or radiation therapy.

Your doctor will give you a recovery plan that addresses your specific needs.

What’s the takeaway?

Vulval cancer is a serious condition that requires prompt diagnosis and treatment.

It’s also possible for vulval cancer to return if it’s not treated successfully.

It’s important to seek prompt medical attention if you have any symptoms of vulval cancer.

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