Vulvar Cancer

Cancer of the vulva usually affects the outer vaginal lips. Less often, cancer affects the inner vaginal lips, clitoris, or vaginal glands. If caught early, we can treat vulvar cancer with high-tech tools that cause little to no harm to your vulva.

Slow Growth & VIN

Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over many years. Sometimes, abnormal cells  grow on the surface of the vulva skin for a long time. This condition, vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), can lead to cancer. Because it is possible for VIN to become vulvar cancer, it is very important to get treatment.

Both VIN and an HPV infection can increase your risk for cancer of the vulva. If you've had abnormal pap smears in the past, you might also have a higher risk.

Signs of Vulvar Cancer

Possible symptoms include:

  • A lump or growth on the vulva
  • Changes in the vulva skin, such as color changes or growths that look like a wart or ulcer
  • Itching in the vulva area that doesn't go away
  • Bleeding not from your period
  • Tenderness in the vulva area

These signs could mean you have cancer of the vulva. But you'll need to see a doctor to know for sure. These symptoms could have other causes. 

A physical exam and a biopsy will help your doctor find out the source of your symptoms.

Treating Vulva Cancer

Your provider can talk with you about your options. At UVA, we have expertise in both surgery and medical treatments. 

Surgery for vulva cancer aims to remove the cancer cells from your vulva. You'll want to remove the dangerous cancer or pre-cancer cells. But we'll also want to make sure to save your quality of life. Surgery can harm your sexual health. If we can, we use techniques that will take away cancer and leave as much of your vulva as possible.

Laser Surgery

If we find pre-cancer cells early, we can use laser surgery to burn away the diseased tissue.

Ultrasound Surgical Aspiration (USA) 

This safe, effective procedure can remove abnormal cells with precision. We can take away cancer with minimal damage to the surrounding tissue.

Advanced Cancer Surgery

If the cancer in your vulva has spread, you'll need more extreme surgery. This can range from cutting out the top layer of your vulva to removing sexual organs. 

Other types of surgery (vulvectomy) could remove your:

  • Labia, inner and outer
  • Clitoris
  • Deep tissue of your vulva

Pelvic exenteration takes out the lower colon, rectum, bladder, uterus, cervix, and vagina. 

Vulva Cancer in Lymph Nodes

Vulva cancer can spread to lymph nodes in your groin. This would mean taking out these lymph nodes, too. We'll first do a biopsy to see if cancer has spread to your lymph nodes. This will help us know if we need to remove the other lymph nodes.

Standard Therapies

Other standard cancer therapy can help, too:

  • Radiation
  • Chemo
  • Biologic


Content was created using EBSCO’s Health Library. Edits to original content made by Rector and Visitors of the University of Virginia. This information is not a substitute for professional medical advice.