Vulvar cancer is a rare type of reproductive cancer and since its symptoms can go unnoticed for some time, it may be diagnosed in the later stages. Catching vulvar cancer early not only gives you a better chance at remission but can minimize the need for extensive surgical treatments.
Vulvar cancer may occur at the entrance to the vagina or on the external genitalia. The disease is complex and can originate in various types of cells, such as melanocytes or glandular cells. This variability in the origin means the symptoms are not always the same in each woman. The best way to catch vulvar cancer early is to be familiar with your vagina, including the way it looks and feels. Feel around to find any lumps or bumps and use a mirror the identify areas of discoloration. When you know what your body looks like and feels like normally, it will be easier to identify abnormalities. Itching and burning are other symptoms that are cause for concern. Fortunately, most symptoms can be explained by less severe problems since vulvar cancer is rare.
Diagnosis will involve examination of the vulva and surrounding areas and a biopsy. The biopsy of suspicious areas will be the most informative because it will give doctors definitive information on the type of lesion. If the biopsy results reveal any areas of cancer, more extensive testing and possibly additional biopsies will be necessary to determine if the cancer has spread to nearby areas. Vulvar cancer is more likely to spread to the anus, bladder, and into the vaginal canal. So these areas will need to be examined and tested to see if there are cancerous cells. Other areas of concern may be nearby lymph nodes that may be removed and biopsied. Once the extent of vulvar cancer is known, doctors will devise a treatment approach.
If cancer is detected in the earlier stages, removal of the affected tissue will be necessary. Your doctors may also recommend chemo and/or radiation therapy. As vulvar cancer progresses, so does the need for more complex surgeries to stay ahead of the cancer. For example, some or all of the vulva may need to be removed. In the most extreme cases where cancer has spread to nearby organs, many of the abdominopelvic organs are also removed, such as the rectum and bladder. More extensive surgery also requires more extensive chemo and radiation treatments. Newer treatments, such as immunotherapy, may be helpful for targeted therapy and also reducing the rate of recurrence.
Due to the uncommon nature of vulvar cancer, it easily goes unnoticed. Just as you would check your breasts routinely for abnormalities, you should check your vulva so it will be easier to identify problems in the early stages. Visit a women's health specialist like those at HealthWellnessMD for more information.