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Vulvar cancer is a rare cancer that forms in the vulva's cells and tissues. The vulva is a woman's external genitalia, which includes:
- Labia: the inner and outer vaginal lips
- Clitoris: the sensitive tissue between the vaginal lips
- Vaginal opening and its glands
- Mons pubis: the rounded area in front of the pubic bones that becomes covered with hair at puberty
- Perineum: the area of skin between the vulva and the anus
Early diagnosis of vulvar cancer may help you avoid extensive surgery.
Vulvar Cancer: What You Need to Know
The best way to reduce the risk of vulvar cancer is to lower your risk for sexually transmitted disease such as HPV (human papilloma virus) and HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) by:
- Limiting your number of sexual partners
- Using a condom every time you have sex
- Considering the HPV vaccine
Once a woman begins to have a monthly period, she should have a yearly pelvic exam.
Vulvar cancer is best managed by a group of specialists that include gynecologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, pathologists, nurses and patient support specialists. Our physicians and other support staff work together as a team, providing expert care.
Experienced, Trusted Expertise
Women facing vulvar cancer benefit from our close partnership with the University of Vermont Cancer Center, where most of our cancer doctors regularly dedicate part of their time to developing more effective means of discovering and treating cancer. This means that your doctor has some of the most up-to-date information, which translates into better care for you and your family.
What is Vulvar Cancer?
Usually, vulvar cancer forms slowly over years. Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips. Less often, vulvar cancer affects the inner vaginal lips, clitoris or vaginal glands.
The two most common types of vulvar cancer are:
- Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma which starts in the thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vulva. Most vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
- Vulvar melanoma begins in the skin cells of the vulva that make skin color (pigment).
There may be no early vulvar cancer symptoms. Once the cancer progresses, vulvar cancer symptoms can include:
- Abnormal bleeding, not related to menstrual periods, such as after menopause or directly after intercourse
- Pain and tenderness
- Skin changes, such as color changes or thickening
- A lump, wart-like bumps or an open sore
The exact cause of vulvar cancer is unknown. However, several factors may increase your risk of developing it, including:
- Age: Although vulvar cancer can happen at any age, generally the risk increases as you age. Most vulvar cancer diagnoses happen to women who are over the age of 65.
- HPV (human papilloma virus) exposure: This sexually transmitted disease increases the risk or several cancers including vulvar cancer and cervical cancer. Ask your doctor about a HPV vaccine.
- Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia (VIN): In VIN, abnormal cells grow on the surface of vulvar skin over a long time period.
- Many sexual partners
- Early age at first intercourse
- Smoking: UVM Medical Center offers a quit smoking program
- HIV (humanimmunodeficiency virus) infection
- History of abnormal Pap tests
- Lichen sclerosus
Diagnosis and Treatment: Vulvar Cancer
UVM Cancer Center physicians are highly trained in performing procedures to diagnose and treat vulvar cancer such as colposcopy and excision.
Learn more about vulvar cancer diagnosis and treatment.