What is vulval cancer?
The vulva is a woman’s external genitalia and some vulval cancers develop from VIN (vulva intraepithelial neoplasia) which is a precancerous change and can be treated to reduce the risk of cancer.
Vulval cancer is one of the rare gynaecological cancers, with just over 1,000 cases diagnosed in the UK every year.
What are the symptoms?
Symptoms and signs include:
- Persistent itching or pruritus which lasts for more than a few days
- A mole or pigmented patch in the vulva that changes shape, colour, or size
- Pain or soreness
- Thickened skin patch which looks different in texture
- Ulceration or bleeding
- Swelling or lump which is irregular
- Dark or red patches on the skin
If you have any of these symptoms, please see your doctor urgently and ask for a specialist referral. Some conditions can only be diagnosed by examination under a microscope (vulvoscopy) or biopsy. It is best to get things checked out for peace of mind.
How is vulval cancer treated?
As with all gynaecological cancers, treatment will depend on a variety of factors such as the stage of the cancer. Although there are a variety of options, the main treatments include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy.
Surgical treatment varies depending on the stage of the cancer:
Stage 1, when cancer is limited to the skin of the vulva, surgery involves wide local excision of the tumour with at least a 2cm clear margin with or without removal of the lymph nodes in the groins.
Stage 2 and beyond, surgery may involve radical excision of the vulval skin with removal of the groin lymph glands. You may need reconstruction of the perineum with plastic surgery. Surgery is followed by radiotherapy to the pelvic area.
Radiotherapy involves treatment to the vulval skin and other areas such as the groin lymph glands where the cancer has/may spread. Treatment usually is carried out every day from Monday to Friday for 5 weeks. The treatment itself usually takes about 10-15 minutes. Side effects of radiotherapy involve diarrhoea, blood is stools or urine, increased frequency of passing urine, soreness whilst passing urine. Many of these side effects may continue to be bothersome for years following the treatment.
Chemotherpay is needed when the cancer has spread to distant organs beyond the pelvis. It involves adminstration of intravenous medications that kill cnacer cells. Treatment usually involves half a day in the hospital every 3-4 weeks for a total of 6 cycles. Side effects include feeling tired, feeling sick, loss of weight and appetite, loss of hair
I have been diagnosed with vulval cancer, what do I need to know?
Treatment of vulval cancer often includes surgical removal of the cancer and lymph nodes in the groins and may be followed by radiotherapy or chemotherapy or both. This causes disfigurement of the external genitalia. Recent advances such as sentinel lymph node dissection may reduce the risk of unwanted effects such as lymphoedema (swelling of the leg).
What are my chances of beating vulval cancer?
When vulval cancer is diagnosed in an early stage (stage 1), this is completely curable. Overall 7 in 10 women diagnosed with vulval cancer survive up to 5 years.
Can vulval cancer be prevented?
Some cancers of the vulva are caused by Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection. HPV vaccination may prevent vulval cancer. Regular check-up of the skin of external genitalia may identify precancerous conditions, which when appropriately treated reduce the risk of vulval cancer.
Make an appointment
We are pleased to have introduced online booking which allows patients to book directly with any member of team if you are concerned. For appointment enquiries, please call our team on 020 7101 1700. or email [email protected] or visit our online booking portal here.