You’re aware of the dangers of skin cancer and know to use sunscreen and other measures to protect yourself. You may not be as aware of the dangers of cancer on your vulva, which is part of your female reproductive system.
Our board-certified dermatologists with Seacoast Dermatology educate you on the risks for vulvar cancer and can provide checks to ensure your vulvar health.
What is vulvar cancer and where is it?
Your vulva is the area of your body that leads into the vagina and urethra and houses your external genital organs. You have thick folds of skin that protect the entrance to the vulva. The labia majora are the thicker folds of skin that you can see on the outside; the labia minora are thinner folds of skin underneath.
Vulvar cancer normally occurs on the labia but it can occur anywhere on the vulva. As with other cancers, this one has different stages. Early treatment can save your life. The five-year survival rate is 90% for vulvar cancer diagnosed in stage one.
Vulvar cancer: What to look for
You can easily check a large part of your body for skin cancer. To check for vulvar cancer, you need a mirror. It’s not really difficult to do. You should know how your vulva looks when it’s normal so you can tell if there are any changes to its appearance.
Make a body check part of your health routine once a month and include your check for vulvar symptoms for peace of mind. The following changes could be signs of vulvar cancer. Call our office for an appointment if you have any of these uncomfortable symptoms:
- Itching around the vulva
- Pain or a burning feeling
- Skin color change (e.g., lighter or darker or an abnormal color)
- A wart-like bump on the vulvar skin
- Rough, thick skin
- Open sore
Are you at risk for vulvar skin cancer?
Risk factors for vulvar cancer include genetic and environmental factors. While your genetic makeup is a fixed factor, several others are the result of lifestyle choices that are under your control.
Know your risk factors and try to minimize them. You’re at increased risk if you are postmenopausal, have had certain forms of the human papillomavirus, are a smoker, or have atypical moles or melanoma.
Vulvar cancer prevention
In the post-AIDS and post-pandemic world, our patients have gotten smarter about their health. Three simple steps can help you prevent vulvar cancer:
Get the HPV vaccination
There are two forms of the vaccine — one for young adults and one for adults up to age 45. The HPV vaccine protects you from the forms of the human papillomavirus that doctors believe cause vulvar cancer.
If you’re not monogamous, use a condom when you have sexual intercourse. Condoms limit the risk for HPV but can’t protect against it 100%.
Get your annual gynecological exam
Your gynecologist can tell you if they see something that doesn’t look right in the area of your vulva. And at Seacoast Dermatology, we can check for vulvar cancer as part of a full-body check or a separate check.
Treatment of vulvar cancer
If you have precancerous, abnormal cells, we may treat the condition with an ointment. If there are cancer cells, we may recommend drug therapy and/or surgery followed by radiation and chemotherapy or biologic therapy.
Call us at Seacoast Dermatology for an appointment at one of our convenient office locations: Portsmouth, Dover, and Exeter, New Hampshire. We help you maintain your skin health.