Cancer of the Vulva and Vagina

Cancerous growths occurring on the vulva or in the vagina

  • More common over the age of 60
  • Unprotected sex at an early age, unprotected sex with multiple partners, and smoking are risk factors
  • Genetics is not a significant factor

Cancers of the vulva and vagina are rare and usually affect women over the age of 60. They account for about 1 in 20 cancers of the female reproductive organs. Although these cancers do not usually occur together, they may both be associated with certain types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is sexually transmitted. Smoking may also be a risk factor. If not treated, these cancers may spread to the pelvic lymph nodes and to other parts of the body.

Cancer of the vulva may cause vulval itching, but often the first symptom is a hard lump or ulcer on the vulva. If the ulcer is not treated, it may produce an offensive, bloody discharge. Cancer of the vagina often causes no symptoms until the tumour is at an advanced stage, although bleeding and pain may occur after sexual intercourse. If you develop any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor at once.

What might be done?

Your doctor may make a diagnosis of cancer of the vulva or vagina from your symptoms. A sample of tissue may also be removed from the affected area and examined to look for cancerous cells.

Cancer of the vulva is usually treated surgically by removing the affected area. The nearby lymph nodes are also usually removed and examined to see if the disease has spread and if further treatment is necessary. Cancer of the vagina is usually treated with radiotherapy. However, it may also be necessary to remove part of the vagina and the nearby lymph nodes.

The outlook for both these cancers depends on whether they have spread. If they are diagnosed and treated early, there is often a full recovery.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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