Understanding vulvar cancer

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February 24, 2020

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Vulvar cancer is increasing among younger women. That’s because of rising exposure to the human papillomavirus (HPV).

This is a type of cancer that occurs on the outer surface of the female genitalia and usually affects elderly menopausal women, mostly those 70 years old and older. Although it’s rare, Flair spoke with consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist Mandi Elliot to learn more about the issue, which “accounts for less than one per cent of cancers in women”.

“There are many different types of vulvar cancer, based on where they originate. The most common type is squamous cell carcinoma, which develops from skin cells. Other types include vulvar melanoma, which springs from melanin-producing cells, and adenocarcinoma, which grows in the cells that line the glands in the vulva,” the doctor explained.

If you find yourself with persistent itching of the vulva, abnormal bleeding, thickening or discolouration of the skin of the vulva, and ulcers or sores on the vulva, you may have vulvar cancer. These are the most common red flags that customarily point to the illness.


Elliot said that like many other types of cancer, the specific cause of this one is not yet known. What happens is that the cells of the vulva begin to grow abnormally and uncontrollably.

The sexually transmitted infection HPV, which also predisposes women to cervical cancer, is not the only risk factor that makes you vulnerable to the disease. Still, the doctor is imploring you to limit your sexual partners and get the HPV vaccine.

“Also avoid smoking, and ensure regular physical check-ups,” the doctor advised.

Other risk factors are ageing, being immunocompromised (having a weakened immune system), and having an uncommon skin condition called lichen sclerosus.


According to the doctor, the main method of treatment of vulvar cancer is surgical excision, the removal of the cancer or lesion. “A portion of normal tissue is usually removed, as well, to prevent recurrences, and radiotherapy and chemotherapy are also indicated in some cases,” she said.

If you believe that you could have vulvar cancer, visit your doctor immediately.

Story by Rocheda Bartley


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