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Vulvar cancer is an invasive and cancerous growth, which occurs in the vulva (the external vaginal or reproductive tract opening in females). The main types of vulvar cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma: This condition gives rise to abnormal growths that generally originate from the most common forms of skin cells known as squamous cells. They are characterized by open sores, scaly red patches, elevated growths with a depression in the centre or warts which might crust or bleed. They can cause disfiguring and sometimes can prove to be fatal if their growth is allowed.
- Melanoma: This is a form of cancer that is known to develop cells that contain pigment called melanocytes. It is one of the most dangerous forms of cancer and is more commonly found in women.
- Basal cell carcinoma: Basal cell carcinoma contributes to around 1- 2% of vulvar cancer. This form of cancer tends to be slow-growing lesions on the labia majora (external large vulvar folds), but is capable of occurring anywhere else on the vulva. The behaviour bears resemblance to basal cell cancers that occur in other locations. Their growth is local and the risk of deep invasion or metastasis (spreading of cancer) is low. Treatment of basal cell carcinoma involves excision. However, these types of lesions tend to recur if they are not removed completely.
Symptoms of vulvar cancer include:
- Itching, bleeding or burning sensation on the vulva that is not relieved.
- Occurrence of skin changes such as rashes or warts, on the vulva.
- Pain in pelvis, particularly during sex or urination.
- Changes in skin colour of the vulva (abnormally red or white).
- Lumps, ulcers or sores that occur on the vulva which does not subside
Treatment options of vulvar cancer include:
1. Surgery: This is the most common form of treatment wherein, the cancer is removed without affecting the sexual function of the woman. Some of the surgical procedures include:
- Laser Surgery
- Wide local excision (small portion of the cancerous tissue)
- Radical local excision (removing a major portion of benign tissues as well)
- Ultrasonic surgical aspiration (tumour is broken into small pieces using fine vibrations)
- Vulvectomy (removal of all or part of vulva)
2. Radiation Therapy: This treatment procedure involves using radiations such as X-rays to target and destroy the cancer cells. The two forms of radiation therapy are external radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy.
3. Chemotherapy: This form of treatment uses oral administration or injection of chemicals into the veins so that the growth of cancerous cells is stopped, either by elimination of the cells or by prohibiting cell division.