Overview

The vulva is the outer layer of the skin of the female genital organ surrounding the vagina, clitoris, labia, and urethra. It is a rare type of cancer affecting the women’s vulva and is known as vulvar cancer.

An itchy lump or sore on the vulva is a common onset of vulvar cancer which can occur at any age but mostly found in adult women.

Surgery may be done to remove the whole vulva or parts of it. If detected early, vulvar cancer may not require an extensive surgery.

Symptoms

The following are the signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer:

  • Tenderness and pain
  • Burning sensation in the vulvar area
  • Persistent itchiness
  • Vulvar skin thickening or color changes
  • An open ulcer or wart-like lump
  • Bleeding not related to menstrual period
  • Pelvic pain during sexual intercourse or urination.

If you notice these symptoms, consult a gynecologist.

Causes

The cause of vulvar cancer is unclear. Generally, cancer starts when the cell’s DNA mutates. This mutation causes the cells to grow and divide rapidly outliving the healthy cells, and forms a tumor which can invade surrounding tissues or spread to the other parts of the body.

Types of vulvar cancer

The type of treatment will be based on the type of cell of the origin of vulvar cancer.
These are the types of vulvar cancer that are usually found:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma. The most common type of vulvar cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. It starts at the vulvar surface with thin and flat cell lining.
  • Melanoma.  Melanoma is type of skin cancer that develops form pigment producing cells in the skin. Melanoma most often spreads to other part of the body.

Risk factors

They following risk factors may cause vulvar cancer:

  • Old age.  As women age (average is 65 years old), the risk of getting vulvar cancer also increases. Although, any age group can have the disease.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV) exposure. Having HPV has a high risk of having a couple of cancers such as vulvar or cervical cancer. It is a sexually transmitted infection which can occur in the sexually active and younger generation. This infection may disappear on its own or undergo cell mutations which pose a high chance of having cancer later on.
  • Smoking. May increase the chance of having vulvar cancer.
  • Weak immune system. Having a disease that compromises the immune system such as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) or those who are taking immunosuppressant medications such as those who have undergone organ transplant have higher risks of having vulvar cancer.
  • Having a history of precancerous conditions of the vulva. This may further develop into vulvar cancer. The doctor may advise to remove the affected part with regular follow up visits.
  • Having a skin condition involving the vulva.  A skin condition that causes itchiness and thinning of the vulva called lichen sclerosus may pose a higher risk of developing vulvar cancer.
  • Multiple sexual partners.