The vulva is comprised of the external female genital organs, including the vaginal lips, clitoris and the skin surrounding the vagina. Vulvar cancer occurs when malignant cells form in any of these organs.
Vulvar cancer can develop over a period of years, as cells undergo abnormal changes before becoming malignant. This phase is called vulvar intraepithelial neplasia (VIN) or dysplasia. Risk may include carrying the human papillomavirus, (HPV) and advanced age.
Symptoms of vulvar cancer
There are not usually noticeable symptoms of vulvar cancer. However, some women do experience symptoms. These may include:
- Abnormal bleeding different from menstruation
- Vulvar lumps
- Itching in the vulva
- Pelvic pain
If vulvar cancer is caught in its early stages, it is very treatable and outcomes can be excellent. If there is a concern, or a biopsy comes back with possible signs of cancer, you will be referred to a gynecological oncologist.
Why can’t my regular gynecologist manage my treatment?
The Johns Hopkins Kelly Gynecologic Oncology Service is one of the world leaders in oncology care for women with cancer of the female reproductive tract. Our patients have twice the survival rates of patients of those not treated by a cancer specialist, which is why it is so important to be evaluated by an experienced gynecological oncologist at the onset of disease.
Treatment for vulvar cancer
When evaluated for vulvar cancer, your doctor will take a complete medical and family history as well as perform a pelvic exam to examine the organs of the female reproductive tract for any changes in size or shape. The following tests may be ordered by your doctor to fully evaluate you for vaginal cancer:
- Pap smear. This test includes collecting cells from the cervix and upper vagina. An experienced gynecological pathologist will then check the cells for any sign of malignancy.
- Biopsy. In this procedure, which can be done in your doctor’s office, your doctor will remove a sample of tissue from the vulva, and possibly the vagina. A pathologist will carefully examine the sample of tissue to check for possibly malignancies and other conditions.
If cancer is found in the biopsy, then your doctor will create an individualized treatment plan for you, involving the whole patient and multidisciplinary care. Our multidisciplinary team of experienced gynecologic oncologists treats vulvar cancer in women with nationally recognized high success rates and outcomes.
Treatment for vulvar cancer may include: