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Vulvar Cancer

Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis | Personalized Treatment | Additional Patient Support

The outer area of the female genitalia, the vulva encompasses the urethra and vagina and includes the labia and clitoris. Cancer of the vulva is rare but still occurs more commonly than vaginal cancer, another rare disease of the female reproductive organs. In the United States, the American Cancer Society estimates that a woman will have a 1 in 333 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point in her life.

The experienced specialists at NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center combine the most advanced scientific knowledge and technology with a collaborative, compassionate approach to care. Drawing from the diverse experience of physicians, surgeons, nurses, researchers and a host of other highly trained healthcare professionals, the Kellogg Cancer Center team places patients—and families—at the center of a highly personalized healthcare experience.

Vulvar Cancer Risk Factors, Screening and Diagnosis
The causes of vulvar cancer remain unclear. Increasing age, HPV infection and smoking are among potential risks factors for the development of cellular mutations leading to cancer of the vulva.

Lumps or sores in the vulva can signal cancer. Other signs and symptoms may include:

  • Itching that persists
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Wart-like bumps or open sores

Routine examinations including pelvic exams help detect vulvar cancer in its early stages.

If suspicious lesions are found, your doctor may recommend taking a tissue sample for testing to determine if cancer is present. A colposcopy (an examination using a special microscope) may be performed to better identify and locate abnormal areas for biopsy.

If a diagnosis of vulvar cancer is made, your physician then determines the severity or stage of the cancer. Each cancer type has its own classification system. You may require imaging tests of your chest or abdomen to determine if the cancer has spread. These tests can include X-ray, CT, MRI and/or PET scans.

Personalized Vulvar Cancer Treatment
Treatment of vulvar cancer depends on the stage of the disease, the type of cancer, and the age and health of the patient. Surgery is often used to remove the cancer and/or part of the vulva. Radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy may be used to shrink large vulvar cancer tumors before surgical removal to improve outcomes. For advanced disease, the Kellogg Cancer Center offers a number of treatment options including targeted drug therapy and immunotherapy.

Our multidisciplinary team regularly meets in a multidisciplinary conference to discuss your case in detail and to design a personalized treatment plan. The team may include your gynecologic oncologist, radiation oncologist, geneticist, pathologist, nutritionist, pharmacist, interventional radiologist, social worker and researchers, all focused on you. This "meeting of the minds" provides critical input, resulting in an individualized care plan outlining the best course of action for your care.

Additional Patient Support
Kellogg Cancer Center’s unique services and resources assist patients and family members with a variety of challenges they may face from diagnosis, treatment and beyond. A wide array of support services are available to patients that include our integrative medicine services, financial advocacy and survivorship, to name a few.

For More Information
For more information or to schedule an appointment with one of our specialists, please call 847.570.2639.