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 and Delivery of High Quality Cancer Care in Essex"
NHS Essex Cancer Network

Vulval Cancer

About

Cancer of the vulva is a rare type of cancer that affects women. Around 1,200 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK.

The vulva is a woman's external genitals. It includes the lips surrounding the vagina (labia minora and labia majora), the clitoris (sexual organ that helps women reach sexual climax), and the Bartholin's glands (two small glands each side of the vagina).

Most of those affected by vulval cancer are older women over the age of 65. The condition is rare in women under 50 who have not yet gone through the menopause.

Symptoms of vulval cancer

Symptoms of vulval cancer can include:

  • a persistent itch in the vulva
  • pain, soreness or tenderness in the vulva
  • raised and thickened patches of skin that can be red, white or dark
  • a lump or wart-like growth on the vulva
  • bleeding from the vulva or blood-stained vaginal discharge between periods
  • an open sore in the vulva
  • a burning pain when passing urine
  • a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour

See your GP if you notice any changes in the usual appearance of your vulva. While it's highly unlikely to be the result of cancer, these changes should be investigated.

Read more about diagnosing vulval cancer.

What causes vulval cancer?

The exact cause of vulval cancer is unclear, but your risk of developing the condition is increased by the following factors:

  • increasing age
  • vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) – where the cells in the vulva are abnormal and at risk of turning cancerous
  • persistent infection with certain versions of the human papilloma virus (HPV)
  • skin conditions affecting the vulva, such as lichen sclerosus
  • smoking

You may be able to reduce your risk of vulval cancer by stopping smoking and taking steps to reduce the chances of picking up an HPV infection.

Read more about the causes of vulval cancer.

How vulval cancer is treated

The main treatment for vulval cancer is surgery to remove the cancerous tissue from the vulva and any lymph nodes containing cancerous cells.

Some people may also have radiotherapy (where radiation is used to destroy cancer cells) or chemotherapy (where medication is used to kill cancer cells), or both.

Radiotherapy and chemotherapy may be used without surgery if you're not well enough to have an operation, or if the cancer has spread and it isn't possible to remove it all.

Read more about treating vulval cancer.

Outlook

The outlook for vulval cancer depends on things such as how far the cancer has spread, your age, and your general health. Generally, the earlier the cancer is detected and the younger you are, the better the chances of treatment being successful.

Overall, around 6 in every 10 women diagnosed with vulval cancer will survive at least five years. However, even after successful treatment, the cancer comes back in up to one in every three cases. You'll need regular follow-up appointments so your doctor can check if this is happening.

Can vulval cancer be prevented?

It's not thought to be possible to prevent vulval cancer completely, but you may be able to reduce your risk by:

  • practising safer sex – using a condom during sex can offer some protection against HPV
  • attending cervical screening appointments – cervical screening can detect HPV and pre-cancerous conditions such as VIN
  • stopping smoking

The HPV vaccination may also reduce your chances of developing vulval cancer. This is now offered to all girls who are 12 to 13 years old as part of their routine childhood immunisation programme.

Further information on vulval cancer

Information Prescription Service

To access the Information Prescription Service and the national cancer information pathway for vulval cancer please click on the link below. Then click on 'Specialist information from our charity partners'

www.nhs.uk

Macmillan Cancer Support Website

www.macmillan.org.uk/

Cancer Research UK Website

www.cancerresearchuk.org

Further Information

Visit or phone a local cancer information centre

There are several cancer information and support centres in Essex Cancer Network where anyone affected by cancer can be sure of a warm welcome and high quality, accurate, evidence-based information:

Basildon Hospital Macmillan Info and Support Centre, Outpatients Dept, Basildon Hospital, staffed Monday 2pm - Friday 12.30pm,tel: 0845 155 3111 extension 4908

Macmillan Info and Support Centre,Essex County Hospital, Outpatients Dept, Monday - Friday office hours, tel: 01206 747474

Information Resource Service, St Luke's House, Corringham,Thurrock, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01375 648170

Lantern Suite, Farleigh Hospice,Chelmsford, Monday to Friday office hours, tel: 01245 457418

Hospice Outreach Project Information Bus, Farleigh Hospice, covers the Chelmsford area. Contact Farleigh Hospice as above

For more information, please contact the service direct.

 

Visit your local library in Essex Cancer Network

Essex, Southend and Thurrock library services have worked in partnership with Macmillan Cancer Support and the Essex Cancer Network to establish collections of quality assured information books and pamphlets about cancer. These can be accessed at any library: just ask. Additionally some staff at libraries have been trained to help patients use the Information Prescription Service.

Contact Macmillan Cancer Support Helplines

If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just someone to talk to, call free, Monday to Friday 9am - 8pm (interpretation service available) tel: 0808 808 0000

For financial queries tel: 0808 808 2232

 

Remember: Stay safe online when looking for support!

Internet chat rooms and message forums can be valuable sources of support and comfort, enabling you to meet others in the same position. However, there is potential for abuse - please read these guidelines before you set off to explore...

Click here to download the draft guidelines

 

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