A Pap smear cannot detect vulvar cancer, a malignancy that occurs in the external section of a woman’s genitalia. In fact, there is currently no established screening method for vulvar cancer. The best way to protect your health is to be mindful of factors that may increase your risk and to quickly seek a physician’s opinion if you notice any potential symptoms of vulvar cancer.
What are the symptoms of vulvar cancer?
Vulvar cancer typically does not cause noticeable symptoms in its earliest stages. As the disease progresses, some changes may develop around the vulvar area, which includes the vaginal opening, labia, clitoris and Bartholin glands. Here are a few of the most common symptoms:
- Unusual bleeding
- Frequent itching, pain or burning
- Sores or wart-like bumps
- Painful urination
- Changes in skin color or texture
If you have one or more of these symptoms, an infection or another noncancerous condition is most likely to blame. Still, it’s important to promptly seek medical care once you notice any changes in your body. Any health problem that affects the vulvar area should be addressed as quickly as possible by a medical professional.
Am I at risk for vulvar cancer?
Vulvar cancer is an uncommon condition, but if you are a woman, you still have some degree of risk. Researchers have identified a few factors that may increase the likelihood of developing vulvar cancer, including:
- Advanced age. The average age at diagnosis for vulvar cancer patients is 65.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). An HPV or HIV infection may increase vulnerability to vulvar cancer.
- Tobacco use. Smoking can increase the risk of many types of cancer, including vulvar cancer.
- Chronic vulvar inflammation. An inflammatory skin condition that affects the vulvar area may increase the likelihood of developing vulvar cancer.
If you would like to discuss your individual risk of vulvar cancer with an oncologist who specializes in gynecologic cancers, turn to Moffitt Cancer Center. The multispecialty team at our gynecologic clinic can help explain your risk and provide expert information regarding early detection and treatment. To schedule an appointment, call 1-888-663-3488 or submit a new patient registration form online. Patients with or without referrals are welcomed.