Vulvar cancer is a cancer that occurs in any part the external female genitals, outside of the vagina.
Vulvar cancer most commonly develops in the labia minora, the labia majora and the perineum.
About 300 Australian women are diagnosed with vulvar cancer each year. It most commonly affects women who have gone through menopause, however vulvar cancer can also occur in younger women.
Symptoms of vulvar cancer may include:
- itching, burning and soreness or pain in the vulva
- a lump, sore, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
- thickened, raised skin patches on the vulva (may be red, white or dark brown)
- a mole on the vulvar that changes shape or colour
- blood, pus or other discharge coming from a lesion or sore spot in the vulva
- hard or swollen lymph nodes in the groin area.
There are a variety of tests that may be used to detect vulvar cancer. It is standard practice for your doctor to examine your vulva, vagina, groin and pelvic area. The main tests used to diagnose vulvar cancer are a physical examination, a vulvoscopy, and a tissue biopsy. Dr Farrell is able to perform all these tests in her rooms.
During the examination, Dr Farrell will use a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to look at your vagina, cervix and vulva. She may also take a tissue sample (biopsy) to check for cell abnormalities.
If the tests described above show that you have vulvar cancer, further tests may be needed to find out if the cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. These tests may include a CT scan, MRI scan, or PET scan, a blood test, cystoscopy (day stay operation to look in the bladder), or proctoscopy (to look on the lower bowel). These tests will tell you the clinical stage of the cancer. Staging describes the size of the cancer and if and how far it has spread beyond the vulva. The surgical stage is determined after surgical removal of the cancer, and it is especially important to determine how deep the cancer has gone into the tissues. If the cancer has extended to more than 1-2mm, there is a risk that the cancer may have spread to lymph nodes in the groin, and Dr Farrell may advise that these are biopsied or removed at the time of your surgery.
All cancer results are reviewed weekly by expert gynaecological pathologists and presented by Dr Farrell at a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting to ensure the highest possible standards of care are maintained.
Knowing the stage of the cancer helps Dr Farrell decide on the most appropriate treatment. Treatment may involve surgery, radiotherapy and/or chemotherapy.
Dr Farrell will coordinate follow up after treatment is completed, with 3 monthly reviews for 2 years, then 6 monthly reviews for a total of 5 years at minimum.
For more information follow the link to the Cancer Council Booklet for Vulvar and Vaginal cancer information on this website.