Why choose us for vulvar cancer care?
Vulvar cancer is rare cancer that affects the female reproductive system. At Mays Cancer Center, home to UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, fellowship-trained cancer doctors provide deep expertise in female reproductive cancers.
Our team includes gynecologic oncologists and radiation oncologists who see a high volume of vulvar tumors. We have an intricate understanding of how to treat these rare tumors, providing specialized cancer care in San Antonio and surrounding areas.
Our approach is to provide a supportive, personalized care experience.
Vulvar cancer is one type of gynecologic cancer we treat. Learn more about our gynecologic oncology program.
What you need to know about vulvar cancer
- The vulva makes up the outer part of the female reproductive system (genitals). Vulva tissue consists largely of skin cells. That’s why most cancers that grow in the vulva are skin cancers.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common infection made up of dozens of virus strains, each affecting your health in different ways. Certain high-risk HPV strains can cause cancer, such as vulvar cancer.
- The HPV vaccine can protect against well-known virus strains that cause vulvar, cervical and vaginal cancer. Learn more about the HPV vaccine.
- There’s no screening test for vulvar cancer, and early stages of disease may cause few obvious symptoms. Seeing your gynecologist for regular pelvic exams can help detect vulvar cancer in early stages, so you get timely care.
- Women with vulvar cancer can join our diverse, active support network of reproductive cancer survivors living in and around San Antonio. Purple Heals connects people of many ages and backgrounds who experienced some form of gynecological cancer.
How to talk to your doctor about vulvar cancer
Cancer affects everyone differently. A vulvar cancer diagnosis may make you question how cancer treatment will affect your sexual health or reproductive future.
We encourage you to share your preferences, questions and concerns at any time. We’ll provide honest answers to all your questions and help you navigate the road ahead.
Having a familiar face or trusted friend by your side at appointments may provide comfort during a stressful time. We encourage you to involve family members or loved ones in your care, however it feels right for you.
You might want to ask your doctor about:
- Additional testing you might need as well as how tests help inform your treatment plan
- Cancer stage, including where vulvar cancer originated and whether it has spread
- Treatment options, including surgery and radiation combined with chemotherapy
- Treatment side effects, including how treatment may impact your sexual function
- Clinical trials you may be eligible for at any point in your care
- Support services, including how our unique network of local gynecologic cancer survivors, Purple Heals, can support your health and help you cope
Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) makes up the vast majority of vulvar cancers. Vulvar SCC is a generally slow-growing skin cancer that develops from cells that line the vulva’s outer surface.
Doctors break down SCC cancers into two main groups:
- HPV infection: One vulvar cancer type is associated with the HPV virus and genital warts. This vulvar cancer most often affects women between the ages of 30 and 60.
- Non-HPV-related: This second vulvar cancer type usually occurs in much older women (ages 65 to 85) who have a chronic (lifelong) skin disorder such as lichen sclerosis and vulvar dystrophy. These disorders cause the skin tissue around the genitals to change in color or texture. The skin may also become itchy or painful.
Less common types of vulvar cancers include:
- Melanoma skin cancer develops from pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) in the vulvar region.
- Adenocarcinoma grows from gland cells inside the vulva.