The vulva is a term that refers to the outer part of the female genitalia, which includes the vestibule or opening of vagina, labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), and clitoris. The labia majora is a set of skin folds on the outer side of the opening of the vagina. It is called labia majora as the outer folds are larger than the inner folds (labia minora). The labia majora has hair on the surface. The inner set of folds known as labia minora are smaller and hairless. Both the two sets of labia function to protect the vaginal opening and urethral opening. On each side of the vaginal opening are Bartholin glands which function to produce a mucus-like fluid for lubrication purposes during sexual intercourse. The clitoris is a highly sensitive tissue covered by a small hood of skin known as the prepuce. Finally, the space between the anus and vagina is known as the perineum.
Vulvar cancer occurs when there is a malignant and invasive growth in the outer region or inner portion of the vulva. The risk factors of vulvar cancer include a history of exposure to human papillomavirus, increasing age, smoking, a history of precancerous lesions of the vulva, and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. The most common sites for vulvar cancers are the labia majora (50 percent) followed by labia minora. The Bartholin glands and clitoris are rarely involved. The types of vulvar cancer include squamous cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, melanoma, sarcoma, and basal cell carcinoma.
In the United States, vulvar cancers represent 0.7 percent of all cancers in women and nearly 6 percent of all gynecologic cancers. According to the American Cancer Society’s estimation for vulvar cancer in the United States for the year 2018, approximately 6,190 vulvar cancers will be diagnosed with 1,200 deaths.
Symptom #1: Sores Or Ulcers On The Vulva
An ulcer or sore is a break or discontinuity in the skin, mucous membrane, or epithelium due to the sloughing out of inflamed necrotic tissue. Examples of sores include ulcerative dermatitis, pressure ulcers, genital ulcer, diabetic foot ulcer, mouth ulcer, corneal ulcer, peptic ulcer, venous ulcer, and more.
In vulvar cancer, the sore or ulcer is located on the vulva and does not go away. Sores or ulcers on the vulva can also be due to other conditions such as sexually transmitted diseases. Those who experience this issue should see a physician to rule out serious conditions.