Vulvar cancer: Painful urination to open sore; common symptoms to watch out for
- Are you ignoring these common symptoms of vulvar cancer? Experts on how to recognise it, prevention and treatment tips.
Vulvar cancer, one of the rare cancers, develops on the outer surface of female genitalia. The cancer usually develops slowly and its signs and symptoms are at times not noticeable. One of the early signs could be appearance of a precancerous lesion that indicates abnormal cell development in the skin's outermost layer. Other symptoms may include constant itching on the outer part of vagina, discomfort, sensitivity, dicolouration etc. (Also read: Ovarian cancer: Common myths debunked by expert)
"Cancer of the reproductive organs and genitals in both men and women is usually overlooked in many instances. Despite having a generic knowledge of various gynaecological-related cancer, many are completely left in the dark when it comes to symptoms and the potential threat it causes to the intimate region. One such potentially rare form of cancer is Vulvar cancer. This cancer affects the vulva, the outer part of the female genitals," says Dr. Parag Ingle, Consultant Surgical Oncologist, HCG NCHRI Cancer Centre Nagpur.
Dr Ingle says the cancer is more common in postmenopausal women due to a sudden transformation in lifestyle and unhealthy habits such as smoking, other women should also be cautious.
What is vulvar cancer
Vulvar carcinoma mostly affects the vaginal outer lips. Cancer that begins in the vulva is called primary vulvar cancer. When cancer spreads from some other part of the body to the vulva it is termed secondary vulvar cancer.
Signs and symptoms to watch out for
Dr Ingle says the first symptom is usually a lump or ulceration, which may be accompanied by itching, discomfort, or bleeding. Most typical symptoms include:
● Painful sexual intercourse
● Painful urination
● Wart-like growth
● Thickened skin
Varied forms of vulvar cancer have various symptoms, and in some situations, no symptoms are present.
"Women who are infected with Human Papillomavirus (HPV) are more likely to develop vulvar cancer. Women who have Vulvar Intraepithelial Neoplasia (VIN), a disorder in which vulvar skin cells grow into cancer cells, have a significantly higher chance of developing vulvar cancer. Lichen Sclerosus, a condition that causes the skin to thicken and become itchy, and this might slightly raise the risk of vulvar cancer. Women who smoke on a regular basis are three to six times more likely to get vulvar cancer. If the habitual smoker additionally has an HPV infection, the risk increases even more," says Dr Ingle.
Stages of vulvar cancer
Stage 0 - The cancer is only visible on the skin's surface.
Stage 1 and 2 - The cancer is localized to the vulva and grows to a size of up to 2 cm. In Stage 3 - The cancer is found to have spread to adjacent tissue such as the anus or vagina and to the lymph nodes.
Stage 4 - After spreading to the lymph nodes on both sides of the groin, cancer may spread to the intestines, bladder, or urethra, the passageway through which urine exits the body.
- Surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and biologic therapy are the most common treatments for vulvar cancer.
- The primary method of treating vulvar cancer is surgery. The objective is to cure cancer while ensuring that sexual functions remain intact. If cancer is detected in its early stages, it can be treated with just a minor surgery. Surgery will be more complex if done in the later stages when cancer has spread to neighbouring organs such as the urethra, vagina, or rectum.
- Practicing safe sex, not smoking, having the HPV vaccination, and going for cervical smear tests are a few measures that can help prevent vulvar cancer. The best way to lower the risk is to be aware of the symptoms and to get checked as soon as they appear. It is also crucial to schedule frequent gynaecological health checks, including a physical exam at least once a year.