Vulvar cancer is the 4th most common female reproductive cancer. In 2008, we’ll see about 3460 cases and of those, about 970 deaths are predicted. 90% of these cases are squamous cell carcinoma (these are the same cells we see in the skin). About 5% of the cases are melanoma (derived from the same melanocyte cells that we have in our skin).
HPV may be a strong risk factor, smoking too. Patients with HIV may also be at a higher risk of developing these cancers. You’ll see these cancers typically on the inner edges of the labia majora or labia minora (have your gynecologist acquaint you with your anatomy using a mirror if you are unclear on these body parts). The cancer can also invade the clitoris and is found in higher numbers in women 65 and older, though it is seen in younger women.
Symptoms you might experience include:
- Pain or tenderness in that area
- Burning sensation
- Non-menstrual bleeding
- Changes in color, texture or a birthmark in that area
- Open sores, lumps or bumps in the vulvar region that can’t be explained by other causes
If you are not sure - get any lesion or group of lesions examined by a gynecologist, since earlier detection means a more curable situation. The doctor will determine his diagnosis based on a biopsy, and treatment will include surgery and possibly radiation. IF YOU HAVE HAD SKIN CANCER - make sure you get a yearly exam of the vulvar area as well.
Known as The HealthGal, expert contributor Amy Hendel is a popular medical and lifestyle reporter, nutrition and fitness expert, columnist, and brand ambassador, as well as a health coach. Trained as a physician assistant, she maintains a health coach private practice in New York and Los Angeles. Author of The Four Habits of Healthy Families, you can find her on Twitter @HealthGal1103 and on Facebook at TheHealthGal. Her personal mantra is “Fix it first with food, fitness, and lifestyle.”