There are several types of vulvar cancer that can affect the outer portion of the female genitalia. To confirm or rule out a diagnosis, a physician will typically begin by performing a physical examination and Pap smear. If there is an abnormal growth within the vulva, a physician will usually obtain a small sample of tissue through an excisional or punch biopsy. A pathologist can then examine the sample under a microscope to look for evidence of vulvar cancer and, if found, determine its type and stage. This information is important in determining the most appropriate course of treatment.
The types of vulvar cancer include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma – The most common type of vulvar cancer, squamous cell carcinoma is usually preceded by precancerous cellular changes and develops slowly over the course of several years.
- Vulvar melanoma – A far less common type of vulvar cancer, vulvar melanoma develops in the pigment-producing cells of the vulva, which provide color to the skin.
- Sarcomas – These rare cancers form in the muscle layer, fat cells or blood vessels under the skin and tend to grow quickly. Sarcomas that can affect the vulva include leiomyosarcomas, rhabdomyosarcomas, angiosarcomas, neurofibrosarcomas and epithelioid sarcomas.
- Adenocarcinoma – A small number of vulvar cancers originate in the glands within the vulvar skin. Adenocarcinoma cells sometimes spread from these glands across the vulvar skin, a condition known as Paget's disease of the vulva.
- Basal cell carcinoma – A very small number of vulvar cancers develop within the basal cells of the vulva (the deepest layer of skin cells).
- Verrucous carcinoma – This very rare type of squamous cell carcinoma grows slowly and resembles a wart.
At Moffitt Cancer Center’s gynecological clinic, our patients have access to an outstanding team of cancer specialists who provide all aspects of care and support in a single, convenient location. A referral is not needed to receive care at Moffitt, where patients benefit from multiple expert opinions that are rendered through a unique, multispecialty approach. A tumor board comprised of experts in various disciplines works collaboratively to develop a highly individualized treatment plan for each patient.