Cancer of the vulva is a rare tumor with the most recent cancer statistics reporting that approximately 5,000 women in the United States are afflicted annually. It forms in a woman’s external genitalia. The vulva includes the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris, and the opening of the vagina and its glands.
Fortunately, vulvar cancer is highly curable if detected at an early stage; however, treatment can have significant adverse effects on body image, sexual function, as well as bladder and rectal function. Lower extremity lymphedema, a form of chronic swelling which results from the disruption of lymphatic drainage in the groin, is a long-term complication and is, for the most part, irreversible.
Protection from infection with the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), including an HPV vaccination, reduces the risk of vulvar cancer. Examination of the vulva for changes by a woman at home or by her gynecologist during her annual pelvic examination can lead to the detection of pre-invasive disease or early vulvar cancer. Suspicious or unexplained changes on the vulva should be biopsied.
The Foundation offers educational materials that explore this in more depth.