Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that affects the external female genitalia, specifically the vulva. The vulva is the external portion of the female reproductive system and includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. Vulvar cancer is a rare form of cancer, with an estimated 6,000 new cases in the United States each year. However, it is important to be aware of the symptoms and treatment options for vulvar cancer as early detection and treatment can greatly improve outcomes.
Symptoms of vulvar cancer can vary depending on the stage and type of cancer. The most common symptom is a persistent and unexplained vulvar itch, soreness, or burning sensation. Other symptoms may include:
- A lump, bump, or mass on the vulva
- Changes in the color or texture of the skin on the vulva
- Persistent vaginal bleeding or discharge
- A sore or ulcer that does not heal
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse
It is important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other conditions, such as an infection or skin disorder. However, if these symptoms persist or worsen, it is important to see a healthcare provider for an evaluation.
Diagnosis of vulvar cancer begins with a physical examination of the vulva. A healthcare provider will look for any abnormal changes in the skin or tissue of the vulva. They may also take a sample of cells from the vulva for a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. Additional tests, such as a pelvic examination, CT scan, or MRI, may also be performed to determine the stage of the cancer and if it has spread to other parts of the body.
Treatment for vulvar cancer depends on the stage and type of cancer. The most common treatment options include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.
Surgery is the most common treatment for vulvar cancer. The type of surgery performed will depend on the stage and location of the cancer. For early stage cancer, a simple vulvectomy, which removes the affected area of the vulva, may be performed. For more advanced stages of cancer, a radical vulvectomy, which removes the entire vulva, may be necessary. In some cases, lymph nodes in the pelvic area may also need to be removed.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It may be used alone or in combination with surgery. External radiation therapy, which uses a machine outside the body to deliver the radiation, is most commonly used to treat vulvar cancer.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It may be used alone or in combination with surgery or radiation therapy. Chemotherapy can be administered through a vein or orally.
Recovery after treatment for vulvar cancer can vary depending on the type and extent of treatment. Surgery may require a significant amount of time for recovery and may result in changes to the appearance and function of the vulva. Radiation therapy can cause side effects such as fatigue, skin irritation, and vaginal dryness. Chemotherapy can cause side effects such as hair loss, nausea, and fatigue.
It is important to work closely with a healthcare team to manage any symptoms and side effects of treatment. They may also recommend additional treatment options such as physical therapy or counseling to help manage any changes to the appearance or function of the vulva.
In conclusion, vulvar cancer is a rare but serious condition that affects the external female genitalia. It is important to be aware of the symptoms of vulvar cancer and seek an evaluation if symptoms persist or worsen. Treatment options for vulvar cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy.