Vulvar Cancer Overview
Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, which is the external genitalia that comprises of the inner and outer labia (“lips”), clitoris, urethra where urine exits, opening of the vagina and its glands, as well as the area of skin between the vagina and anus. It is a rare cancer that can be associated with smoking, human papillomavirus (HPV) infections, as well as conditions of the vulva associated with chronic irritation and inflammation. Cancer of the vulva is a rare tumor with the most recent cancer statistics reporting that approximately 5,000 people with gynecologic systems in the U.S. are afflicted annually.
Vulvar cancer is highly curable if detected at an early stage; however, treatment can have significant adverse effects on body image, sexual function, as well as bladder and rectal function. Lower extremity lymphedema, a form of chronic swelling which results from the disruption of lymphatic drainage in the groin, is a long-term complication and is, for the most part, irreversible.
Protection from infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), including HPV vaccination, reduces the risk of vulvar cancer. Examination of the vulva for changes by a person at home or by their gynecologist during their annual pelvic examination can lead to the detection of preinvasive disease or early vulvar cancer. Suspicious or unexplained changes on the vulva should be biopsied.