Vulvar Cancer (Cancer of the Vulva)
The term vulva refers to all of the external genital organs (external genitalia) of
women, which extends from the pubis to the anus: mons pubis, labia majora, labia minora, Bartholin’s
glands, and clitoris. The vulva is involved
in three main types of functions:
• urination (expulsion of
Vulvar cancer is a rare but serious malignant tumor that predominantly affects
elderly women but sometimes young woman. This disease develops in the cells of the lining tissue of the vulva,
rarely in the cells of the outermost layer of the female genitals. Treatment consists
primarily of surgical removal of the vulva (vulvectomy). Chemotherapy does not work in almost all cases.
Vulvar cancer accounts
for about 4-5% of women’s cancers; that is, about 1in every 25 female cancer cases is a malignant tumor
of the vulva. The disease affects mainly elderly women who
are deficient in certain hormones, especially estrogen.
There are different types of vulvar cancers, classified depending on the origin where the primary tumor
• Squamous cell carcinoma – this condition started
in the epithelial cells,
mainly the cells of the
outermost layer of the epidermis or the posterior of the labia minora. This is the most
common, accounting for about 90% of
• Basal cell carcinoma - this type of cancer started in the deepest
layer of the epidermis: Bartholin’s
glands or vulvar sweat glands.
• Adenocarcinoma - this form of malignant tumor develops in the
glandular tissue of the vulva, and affects mostly the opening of the vagina.
• Melanoma - in this type of vulvar cancer, the tumor develops in the
pigmented skin cells of the vulva, and affects mostly the clitoris or the labia minora.
The vulva can also be affected by a disease called Paget's
vulva (extramammary Paget's disease), a very rare slow-growing malignancy
that originates in the glandular cells of the vulva. It tends to manifest
by red, pink or white scaly patches
on the skin of the vulva. The patches are itchy and similar to the appearance of eczema. The disease affects
mostly postmenopausal Caucasian women.
In addition, the vulva
may also be affected by these non-cancerous conditions:
• Vulvitis, inflammation of the vulva; it is often associated
inflammation of the vagina
(vaginitis) when infectious.
• Vulvovaginitis, benign inflammation of the
external parts of the female genital organs
(vulva) and vagina, which is manifested by
itching, discharge, bad odor, and
this is a sexually transmitted disease (STD) caused by Herpes Simplex Virus type 2 (HSV2 - although HSV1 can also
cause it). Its symptoms (
blisters, ulcers, burning, itching
) are recurrent and painful and can seriously disrupt the sex life of patient.
• Bartholinitis – this condition is characterized by an inflammation of one or both glands in the labia, known as the Bartholin’s
glands. It often arises from a vaginitis.
, this is a skin disease, also known as lichen sclerosus, which usually affects
skin of the vulva
(although it may
affect skin on any part of the body
) and occurs after menopause. This condition manifests by atrophy of the vulva and a narrowing of its opening,
causing itching, burning and urinary pain.
• Bowen's disease, this condition is considered as a precancerous
tumor. It can affect the skin and mucous membranes, especially the vulva, by causing painless
Vulvar Cancer Causes and Symptoms