Vulvar cancer

What is vulvar cancer?

Vulvar cancer starts in cells of the vulva. The vulva is the visible, outside part of the female genital organs. The vulva opens into the vagina (birth canal) and includes the labia and clitoris. The vulva has different functions, but mainly it protects the internal genital organs and gives sexual pleasure.

Risks for vulvar cancer

A risk for developing vulvar cancer is infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV). Learn about other vulvar cancer risks.

Symptoms of vulvar cancer

A sign is something that can be observed and recognized by a doctor or healthcare professional (for example, a rash). A symptom is something that only the person experiencing it can feel and know (for example, pain or tiredness). The signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer can also be caused by other health conditions.

Diagnosis of vulvar cancer

Diagnosis is the process of finding the cause of a health problem. The process of diagnosis may seem long and frustrating, but it is important for the doctor to rule out other reasons for a health problem before making a cancer diagnosis.

Grading vulvar cancer

Grading is a way of classifying vulvar cancer cells based on their appearance and behaviour when viewed under a microscope. A grade is given based on how the cancer cells from a biopsy sample look and behave compared with normal cells (differentiation). This can give the healthcare team an idea of how quickly the cancer may be growing and how likely it is to spread.

Stages of vulvar cancer

Staging is a way of describing or classifying a cancer based on the extent of cancer in the body. The most common staging system for vulvar cancer is the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO).

If vulvar cancer spreads

Cancer cells have the potential to spread from the vulva to other parts of the body where they can grow into new tumours. This process is called metastasis.

Prognosis and survival for vulvar cancer

Women with vulvar cancer may have questions about their prognosis and survival. Prognosis and survival depend on many factors. Only a doctor familiar with your medical history, type of cancer, stage, characteristics of the cancer, treatments chosen and response to treatment can put all of this information together with survival statistics to arrive at a prognosis.

Treatments for vulvar cancer

Treatment for vulvar cancer is given by gynecologists and gynecologic oncologists. Some specialize in surgery, some in radiation therapy and others in chemotherapy (drugs). These doctors work with the woman with cancer to decide on a treatment plan.

Supportive care for vulvar cancer

Supportive care helps women meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of vulvar cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Vulvar cancer statistics

Learn about Canadian statistics for vulvar cancer, which is included in the category of all other and unspecified female genital organ cancers.