What is the vulva?
The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals (including the opening of the vagina). Our Women's Health gynecologic oncologists offer the latest in surgical, chemotherapy and radiation treatments to women affected by this disease.
The vulva is the external portion of the female genital organs. It includes:
- labia majora - two large, fleshy lips, or folds of skin
- labia minora - small lips that lie inside the labia majora and surround the openings to the urethra and vagina
- vestibule - space where the vagina opens
- prepuce - a fold of skin formed by the labia minora
- clitoris - a small protrusion sensitive to stimulation
- fourchette - area beneath the vaginal opening where the labia minora meet
- perineum - area between the vagina and the anus
- anus - opening at the end of the anal canal
- urethra - connecting tube to the bladder
What is vulvar cancer?
According to the American Cancer Society, vulvar cancer accounts for about 4 percent of gynecologic cancer. In the United States, women have a 1 in 406 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point in their life. The risk of vulvar cancer increases with age. When vulvar cancer does occur in young women, it typically associated with the human papilloma virus (HPV) infection, which can be spread through sexual contact.
There are several types of vulvar cancer:
- Squamous cell carcinoma begins in the skin cells of the vulva. This is the most common type of vulvar cancer.
- Adenocarcinoma begins in the gland cells of the vulva, found just inside the opening of the vagina, or in the sweat glands of the skin.
- Melanoma develops in the pigment-producing cells that give skin color. About 5-8 percent of melanomas in women occur on the vulva.
- Sarcoma cancer begins in the cells of the muscles or connective tissues of the vulva. Although very rare, it can occur at any age, including childhood.
- Basal cell carcinoma also is a very rare type of vulvar cancer.
Vulvar cancer does not always produce noticeable symptoms, so regular pelvic exams can greatly increase the chances of detecting this cancer early. Surgery and radiation therapy with chemotherapy are used to treat vulvar cancer. The North Shore-LIJ Women’s Health gynecologic cancer team works with each patient to develop the best treatment plan for her individual diagnosis.