The cause of vulval cancer has yet to be pinpointed, but some of the suggested causes include:
- VIN – vulval intra-epithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a pre-cancerous change in the skin of the vulva. It isn’t cancer, but it can progress to cancer (although most cases won’t). The most common symptom of this condition is itching. Areas affected by VIN may appear swollen with thicker areas of skin and red, white or dark-coloured patches.
- HPV – the human papilloma virus (HPV) is thought to be the cause of three to five out of every ten cases of vulval cancer. HPV is passed on through sexual activity. There are many kinds of HPV and some are considered to be more high risk than others. (The type of HPV that causes genital warts is only very rarely linked to genital cancers, so genital warts aren’t a risk factor.) The first sign of high-risk HPV infection is often a pre-cancerous change in the affected area.
- Smoking – research has revealed that smoking may increase the risk of developing both VIN and cancer of the vulva.
The symptoms of vulval cancer may include:
- Chronic skin conditions and inflammation – some skin conditions are thought to be associated with an increased risk of developing cancer of the vulva. These are Lichen sclerosus (also called Lichen sclerosis), Lichen planus and Paget’s disease.
Any of the symptoms listed above can also be associated with other non-cancerous conditions. If you do have any of these symptoms, you should talk to your doctor.
Your GP will refer you to a specialist and may arrange for you to have blood tests. An examination will be performed to identify any abnormal areas of tissue. An internal examination will also be carried out to check the vagina and cervix for any abnormalities. A biopsy will be taken to establish a diagnosis.
Surgery is the main treatment for cancer of the vulva. Chemotherapy and radiotherapy may also be required. The treatment options will depend on the type of cancer and its position and size.
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This article was last medically reviewed by Dr Trisha Macnair in August 2005.
First published in November 1997.
- itching, burning and soreness around the vulva
- a lump or sore visible on the skin
- pain or soreness in the area around the vulva
- bleeding or discharge
- pain or burning when you pass urine
Vulvar Cancer News:
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Cervical Cancer Vaccine Worth the Cost: Study (HealthCentral.com) – Copyright © 2008 ScoutNews LLC. All rights reserved.
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