Vulva cancer is a rare disease that begins in the outer lining of the genitalia called vulva that surrounds the urethra, vagina, clitoris and labia. It develops when abnormal cells begin developing uncontrollably and forms a tumor on the vulva that causes itching. It mainly affects women who are older and treatment may involve the removal of the entire vulva.
Causes and symptoms of Vulva Cancer
Vulva cancer mainly occurs in older women and may include other risk factors such as HPV infection, smoking, weakened immune system, a condition called lichen sclerosis, history of diagnosed with genital cancers such as the cervix, vulva and vagina or melanoma anywhere in the body, having multiple sexual partners, early sexual intercourse and HIV infection.
- Symptoms may include:
- A lump on the vulvar area
- Change in the color of the skin surrounding the vulva
- Painful urination
- Painful sexual intercourse
- Itching and burning sensation in the vulvar area
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge
- Genital warts
Diagnosing Vulva Cancer
Based on the kinds of symptoms you show, doctors can determine if you are diagnosed with vulva or any other type of genital cancer. However, these symptoms may not occur in the early stage and when they do, the cancer may have advanced, making diagnosis and treatment difficult. The doctor can perform several diagnosis tests to detect vulva cancer, which include:
- Physical examination and medical history
- Pelvic exam
- A biopsy
- PET scan
- CT scan
- Chest x-ray
Once it is confirmed that you are diagnosed with vulva cancer, treatment decisions will be taken based on how far the cancer has progressed.
Treatment of Vulva Cancer
Several treatment methods are available to cure vulva cancer and your doctor will decide the most appropriate option depending on your overall health condition and the severity of the cancer. Treatment options involve:
- Surgery: Surgery is the most common treatment option for curing vulva cancer where the tumor is removed along with some healthy surrounding tissues. A surgeon oncologist performs the operation and depending on the sensitivity and location of the tumor, different types of surgery may be used, which are:
- Laser surgery: A surgical procedure where laser beam is aimed at the skin of the vulva and cut out the cancer.
- Excision: surgery to remove as much cancer as possible along with healthy tissues.
- Vulvectomy: A surgical procedure to remove part or the entire vulva.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy refers to the use of high energy x-rays targeted at the vulva accurately that slows the growth of the cancer and eventually kills them. A radiation oncologist performs the procedure and the treatment may be used with other treatment methods as well.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is the use of anti-cancer drugs which is given to the patient either in the form of pills or injection that enters the blood vessels, reaches throughout the body and kills cancer cells.
There may be some treatment complications you experience once the treatment is finished, which are:
- Change in bowel
- Changes in skin color around the vulva
- Abnormal urination
- Discomfort during sexual intercourse
- Fatigue and weakness
- Upset stomach
- Nausea and vomiting
- Low blood counts
- Mouth or vaginal sores
- Temporary hair loss
Post Operative care
Care is extremely necessary during and post treatment. Your health care team will guide you well on how to lead your life after the treatment.
Visit all follow up checkups where further tests will be performed to ensure you are having smooth recovery.
Avoid eating unhygienic food.
Avoid having sexual intercourse for a few weeks.
Quit smoking and consumption of alcohol.
Make sure to notify the doctor about any abnormal symptoms that cause any issues.