Vulvar Cancer

Vulva is the outer part of the female genitals including the inner and outer lips of the vagina, clitoris, perineum (area between the vulva and the anus), opening of the vagina and its glands, and mons pubis (the rounded area in front of the pubic bone) and urethral meatus (where urine is expelled from the body).

Malignant (cancerous) cells occurring in the tissues of the vulva are known as vulvar cancer. Though it is rare, the occurrence of vulvar cancer can take place at any age but is mostly diagnosed beyond 65.

Abnormal growth of cells on the surface of the vulva is a condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), which can turn into vulvar cancer if not treated timely. Other risk factors include having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a history of genital warts, multiple sexual partners, history of abnormal Pap tests and smoking.

Vulvar cancer does not often show early symptoms. When symptoms occur you may report the following:

  • Itching or burning in the genitals

  • Tenderness in the vulvar area

  • Bleeding not related to menstruation

  • Changes in the vulvar region like thickening or colour changes of the skin

  • Lump or growth on the vulva​

If you notice any of the above symptoms, you can consult a doctor working with the Women’s Health ​Care Service Line at The Aga Khan University Hospital.

You can also consult a specialist working with the Oncology Services at The Aga Khan University Hospital for a detailed diagnosis.​
Your time with your doctor maybe limited, so make sure to prepare for your visit beforehand. He​re are some tips to help get you started.​​

In the attempts to diagnose vulvar cancer, you will be required to undergo the following procedures:

  • A pelvic exam conducted by your doctor encompassing the examination of the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries and rectum.

  • Biopsy to remove a sample of the suspicious vulvar tissue for testing

Once the diagnosis is confirmed, further tests will be carried out to determine the stage and spread of the cancer.​

Treatment will depend on the stage, type and your overall general health of your body. It typically involves:

  • Surgery, which is the most common treatment, to remove:

    • The cancerous cells and some surrounding healthy tissues (wide local excision) or the cancerous cells and a large amount of healthy tissues (radical local excision) to ensure complete eradication of cancer.

    • Part of the compromised vulva and its underlying tissues (partial vulvectomy) or the entire vulva (radical vulvectomy) along with the clitoris and underlying tissues.

    • Vulva and the involved organs like lower colon, rectum, bladder, cervix, uterus, vagina, ovaries and nearby lymph nodes (pelvic exenteration) in case the cancer has spread.

  • Chemotherapy to kill the cancerous cells using chemicals. Usually chemotherapy alone doesn’t work for women with vulvar cancer and hence it is used in combination with other treatments.

  • Radiation therapy to kill the cancerous cells by using high dose of X-rays externally on your body or by placing a radiation-filled device inside or near to the cancer for a small period of time. Radiation maybe administered to complete remove the cancer or shrink large vulvar cancer to make surgery possible.​

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers various support services to help with managing or recovering from the disease or condition. These include but are not limited to nutrition, physiotherapy, rehabilitation, specialized clinics and some patient support groups. Your doctor or nurse will advise you accordingly.

The Aga Khan University Hospital offers financial assistance to those who are in need and fulfil the eligibility criteria. For further information, you can contact the Patient Welfare Department. You can find the contact number of the Patient Welfare Department in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

The financial counselling staff is available during office hours, at the main PBSD (Patient Business Services Department), to answer your financial queries on treatments’ costs and authorize admissions on partial deposit as per hospital policies allow. The financial counsellor in the emergency room is open 24/7. You can find the contact number of the Patient Business Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.​

Your doctor and or nurse will give you specific instructions about the prescribed medication. Please ensure that you take or use the prescribed medicine as advised. It can be dangerous to your health if you self-prescribe. Please inform the doctor or nurse beforehand if you have experienced any adverse reactions to any medications in the past. If you experience any symptoms of drug poisoning, overdose or severe reaction please contact the Pharmacy Service at The Aga Khan University Hospital immediately. You can find the contact number of the Pharmacy Services in the ‘Important Numbers’ section on the website homepage.

​The information provided on our website is for educational purposes and not intended to be a substitute for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. You should always seek the advice of your doctor or other healthcare professional provider.