DURATION: 30 minutes. Your appointment will include a clinical assessment and a full exploration of your medical history. A vulvoscopy may be performed, including potential biopsies, with the use of local anaesthetic.
ANAESTHESIA/PAIN RELIEF: Local anaesthetic will be used if a biopsy is required. If there is a larger lesion requiring removal then sometimes a general anaesthetic will be required in the operating theatre.
RECOVERY TIME: 7-10 days following a biopsy. Bathing and sexual intercourse should be avoided during this time.
SPECIAL REQUIREMENTS: None
SUITABLE FOR: Women seeking a diagnosis for vulval problems; those looking to rule out the prospect of vulval cancer.
Cancer of the vulva, also known as vulval cancer or vulvar cancer, is an uncommon form of cancer that can affect women at any age. It occurs more typically in women who have gone through the menopause and tends to prevail in those over the age of 75.
Vulval cancer is found in younger women, particularly those who have pre-existing conditions such as vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), lichen sclerosus or Paget’s disease of the vulva. In rare instances, melanoma (a type of skin cancer) can also affect the vulval tissue.
The majority of vulval cancers occur in patients of any age who have pre-existing conditions. Key to the diagnosis of vulval cancer is developing an awareness of its most common symptoms, which include bleeding, itchiness or raised or solid lesions.
What is vulval cancer?
Vulval cancer can be characterised as a form of cancer that affects any part of the vulva, which is the collective name for a woman’s external reproductive organs. This includes the labia majora, the labia minora (the lips that surround the vagina) and the clitoris. It’s commonly believed that vulval cancer can develop as a result of the presence of abnormal cells in this area of the body – these are known as vulval intraepithelial neoplasm (VIN). These cells can disappear in time but can pose a significant risk to your health. These cells can be identified during vulval cancer screening and treated effectively if detected at the right moment.
Other risk factors for the development of vulval cancer are old age, smoking and existing skin conditions.
What are the symptoms of vulval cancer?
As with most types of cancer, there are many symptoms that could be indicative of vulval cancer. The most common of these can range from persistent itchiness and pain to the appearance of growths on any part of the vulva and regular bouts of abnormal or unanticipated bleeding. Any visible changes to the skin or moles around your vulva and discomfort when urinating could also suggest that there is something wrong. Quite often, the causes for these changes can be attributed to something less serious but it’s always important to get these symptoms checked out by a medical professional.
Screening for vulval cancer
There is no routine screening programme for vulval cancer. Yet, patients who have experienced previous changes to the cervix or vagina, in the form of VIN, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN), lichen sclerosus or Paget’s disease of the vulva, are more likely to develop vulval cancer, especially if these people experience new symptoms.
In this event, the vulval tissue will need to be assessed by an appropriate expert. A decision will then be made as to whether a vulvoscopy needs to be performed.
A vulvoscopy is a procedure in which the vulval skin is examined in closer detail. A magnified image of this tissue will be assessed and substances such as 5% acetic acid will be used to determine the nature of any skin changes.
If these changes are concerning, a diagnostic biopsy will be performed under local anaesthetic.
Choose Mr Francis Gardner
Mr Francis Gardner has built his career on a vast understanding and knowledge of gynaecological conditions. He has an accreditation in colposcopy and has performed such procedures for over 20 years. As a specialist in gynaecological oncology, Mr Gardner is qualified to diagnose and treat all forms of vulval cancer, guiding patients through their treatment pathway with sensitivity and professionalism.
To book in for vulval cancer screening with Mr Gardner, get in touch today.
No. The majority of vulval cancer symptoms in young women can be attributed to candidiasis, otherwise known as thrush. Lichen sclerosus and VIN can also occur in these individuals, so it is important to undergo tests to determine whether there is an underlying cause of these conditions.
Smoking, persistent high risk HPV infection and the use of immunosuppressive medications increase the risk of vulval cancer, so women falling into these groups should be more aware of the symptoms and potential for vulval cancer.
No. Although this form of cell abnormality could result in the development of vulval cancer, they can quite often disappear independently. If you are found to have VIN, you may be recommended to have either close surveillance, medical therapy or an operative treatment.
As vulval cancer is a relatively rare form of cancer, offering this type of screening to everyone isn’t seen as a priority in the NHS. You should always seek medical attention as soon as you notice something unusual in any of your vulval organs.
If vulval cancer is detected, then you will be required to undergo a series of body imaging tests. A biopsy will also be taken to confirm the diagnosis before a suitable treatment plan is devised. This may consist of surgery, radiotherapy or a combination of these two things. If melanoma is detected, a course of targeted treatment may also be advised.
When detected at an early stage, vulval cancer can be completely cured. Detection at a later stage greatly reduces the chances of recovery and may lead to further treatment including radiotherapy.
This depends on which stage your cancer is diagnosed. If identified at an early stage, this can be cured entirely. In the event that you are diagnosed with a more advanced stage of vulval cancer, it may not be possible to treat this completely.