Cancer of the vulva is rare. Just over 1,100 women are diagnosed with it every year in the UK. It's more common in women over the age of 60, but the number of younger women who are affected is increasing.
Vulval cancer can occur on any part of the external female sex organs. The inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora are the most common areas for it to develop. Less often, vulval cancer may also involve the clitoris and the Bartholin glands. The Bartholin glands produce mucus that lubricates the vagina. They are small glands that are located on each side of the vagina. Vulval cancer can also sometimes affect the perineum.
Symptoms of vulval cancer
The most common symptoms of cancer of the vulva are:
- itching, burning or soreness of the vulva that doesn't go away
- a lump, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
- thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
- bleeding, or a blood-stained vaginal discharge, not related to menstruation (periods)
- burning pain when passing urine
- tenderness or pain in the area of the vulva
- a sore or ulcerated area on the vulva
- a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour.
Any of these symptoms can be due to conditions other than cancer, but it's always important to get your doctor to check them.
Cancer of the vulva can take many years to develop. It usually starts with precancerous cells that change slowly over several years into cancerous cells. As with other cancers, it's easier to treat and cure if it's diagnosed at an early stage.
*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support
The gynaecological oncology surgical team at The Christie provides advanced surgery for vulval cancer and other gynaecological cancers.