Cancer of The Outer Surface of Vagina – Causes Symptoms And Risk Factors of Vulvar Cancer

Cancer of The Outer Surface of Vagina – Causes Symptoms And Risk Factors of Vulvar Cancer

Some types of cancer in women are relatively rare but can be detrimental to health if not treated properly. Vulvar cancer is one of those rare cancers of the female reproductive tract that accounts for about 4 percent of all gynecologic malignancies and just 0.6 percent of all types of cancers in Indian women.

Vulvar Cancer

Cancer of any type occurs when abnormal tissue cells grow uncontrollably. Several types of cancers can affect the reproductive tract of women including vulvar cancer. Vulva forms the inner and outer lips of the vagina, clitoris, introitus (opening of the vagina) as well as glands near the vaginal opening.

Vulvar cancer mainly occurs on the outer lips or outer surface of the vagina but other parts may also get affected, especially as the tumor gradually enlarges. Vulvar cancer typically develops slowly. It often starts as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia which is referred to particular changes in the skin covering the vulva.

Without proper treatment, these abnormal changes in the skin can turn into cancer. Vulvar cancer can commonly form as a sore or lump on the vulva which often causes itching.

How Common is Vulvar Cancer?

The condition can occur at any age but it is most commonly diagnosed in older adults. As women age, the risk can go up. Over half of the cases are estimated to be found in women aged 70 or above. There are only less than 20 percent chances of vulvar cancer occurring in women younger than 50.

Types of Vulvar Cancer

There are basically two types of vulvar cancer. The type of cancer can help the doctor determine the most effective treatment plan.

  1. Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma – Cancer can begin forming in the squamous cells which are thin flat cells that make up the outermost layer of the vulvar skin. This type of vulvar cancer accounts for over 90 percent of all cases.
  2. Vulvar Melanoma – This type of cancer begins growing in the pigment-producing cells of the vulvar skin. Melanoma of the vulva represents about 5 percent of all the cases of vulvar cancer. Dark patch of discoloration is the classic symptom of melanoma.

Causes and Risk factors of Vulvar Cancer

Experts are yet to pinpoint the exact cause of vulvar cancer. However, they have got some clues what can increase the chances of getting vulvar cancer. Below are some of the risk factors of vulvar cancer.

  • Being older than 50 years
  • Being infected or exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Having lichen sclerosis, a skin condition of vulva
  • Being infected with HIV
  • Having a precancerous condition of vulva (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia)
  • Smoking
  • Weak immune system
  • History of genital warts

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Diagnosis and Treatment for Vulvar Cancer
Diagnosis and Treatment for Vulvar Cancer

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Vulvar Cancer?

In the initial stages of vulvar cancer, a woman might not feel any symptoms. However, when symptoms begin to appear, one can feel:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Irritable itching or burning in the vulvar area
  • Pain with urination
  • Pain and tenderness in the area of vulva
  • A lump or wart-like bumps or an open sore on the vulva
  • Changes in the texture of vulva
  • Appearance of mole

These symptoms might not be exclusive to vulvar cancer but also can be signs of other conditions. It’s better to follow-up with the doctor as soon as these symptoms appear. Ask your doctor about the screening process to know more about your condition. Early detection can prevent cancer from progressing as well as help determine a better treatment plan.