The vulva consists of the labia, clitoris, mons pubis, vestibule, and perineum. When vulvar cells grow out of control, they form a tumor known as vulvar cancer. Most vulvar cancers involve the labia majora, or outer lips. The cancer is present in multiple locations in about 5% of cases. It most commonly affects post-menopausal women, but because HPV is a risk factor, the rate of vulvar cancers seen in younger women has been increasing.
As with the vagina, the vulva is mostly made up of epithelial skin cells, so many of the cancers that affect the vulva are skin-related.
Risk factors for this type of cancer include an HPV infection, HIV, smoking, having gone through menopause, and having previously had another gynecologic cancer or melanoma. VIN is also a risk factor.
Some tests are performed by primary care providers or OB/GYNs as part of routine screenings, while others are done after receiving abnormal results to learn more.
Staging is a measurement system based on the size of the tumor and how far it has spread in the body. Using the TNM system, all of the information from tests and examinations is then combined and assessed to determine the stage, from I (one) to IV (four). Generally, the higher the stage, the more serious the cancer.
(Tumor – node – metastasis system)
If left untreated, these cells will likely become invasive vulvar cancer. This stage is also called carcinoma in situ or vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).
Cancer cells have formed and can be found in the vulva and/or perineum.
Cancer cells have spread to the anus, the lower portion of the vagina, or the lower portion of the urethra.
Cancer has spread to the anus, lower vagina, lower urethra, and/or nearby lymph nodes.
Cancer has spread beyond nearby tissues to other organs and/or lymph nodes in the body, or it has caused lymph nodes to become stuck or grow ulcers.
The grade of an illness refers to how the cancer cells look when compared to normal cells. The lower the number, the more cancer cells look like the normal cells. This means the cancer is less likely to spread and may be easier to treat. Grade 3 looks very different from normal cells and is likely to grow and spread faster.
Like vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer is primarily treated with chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, or some combination. Each person’s treatment plan is customized based on their cancer type and stage.