Vulvar Cancer: Introduction
What is cancer?
Cancer is when cells in the body change and grow out of control. To help you understand what happens when you have cancer, let's look at how your body works normally. Your body is made up of tiny building blocks called cells. Normal cells grow when your body needs them, and die when your body does not need them any longer.
Cancer is made up of abnormal cells that grow even though your body doesn't need them. In most cancers, the abnormal cells grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. If cancer cells are in the body long enough, they can grow into (invade) nearby areas. They can even spread to other parts of the body (metastasis).
What is vulvar cancer?
Most vulvar cancers begin in the squamous cells, and lead to squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Squamous cells are the cells that make up most of the skin and other surfaces of the body.
Other rare types of vulvar cancer include melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and sarcoma of the vulva.
Understanding the vulva
The vulva is the outer part of the female reproductive system. It’s also called the external genitalia. The vulva includes:
The mons pubis. This is the rounded area in front of the pubic bones that becomes covered with hair at puberty. It includes the skin folds under the pubic hair that protect the opening of the urethra (the tube that carries urine out of the body) and the vagina.
Two folds of skin. The outer folds are called the labia majora. The inner folds are called the labia minora.
The prepuce or the hood of the clitoris. This is made by the inner fold of the vulva.
The clitoris is below the prepuce. It’s a sensitive piece of tissue that swells with blood when stimulated.
The fourchette is at the bottom of the inner folds of the vulva. This is where the labia minora meet.
The perineum is area between the fourchette and the anus.
Most vulvar cancers start in the labia majora.
Talk with your healthcare provider
If you have questions about vulvar cancer, talk with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider can help you understand more about this cancer.