Vulvar cancer is a rare type of cancer which develops over the span of a few years, and whose symptoms are often ignored.
Clare Bumhauer, 44, shared that ever since she was an adolescent, she had some itching in her vulva or her external genitals.
Whenever she went to doctors for a diagnosis, they always treated it as some form of irritation, cystitis, or even herpes. However, she was shocked when she found what her itching really was.
(a)She suffered as a result of being repeatedly misdiagnosed
She shared that she was embarrassed and frustrated because of her condition, and it persisted until her adulthood. At the age of 30, she developed an ulcer and had to go to the doctor, who diagnosed her incorrectly with a form of sclerosis. 10 years after, doctors finally found that she had vulvar cancer.
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(a)Later on, Clare was diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus, a condition that greatly increases the risk for vulvar cancer. If only the condition had been diagnosed early on, while she was still an adolescent, she could have avoided suffering from vulvar cancer later on in life.
Clare had surgery to remove the affected area of her vulva, and also went through radiation therapy in order to completely cure her of cancer. However, she suffered as a result of being repeatedly misdiagnosed, and her menopause came early because of the radiation treatment.
(a)What are the signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer?
Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that occurs in the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia.
Vulvar cancer is a rare form of cancer that’s also difficult to diagnose, especially since it develops over several years. Similar to Clare’s case, it can also be misdiagnosed, as vulvar cancer doesn’t have any obvious symptoms at first.
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However, these are some signs that you should look out for:
- A lump in the vulva, or the external part of the vagina.
- Itching or tenderness in the vulva.
- Bleeding while you’re not on your period.
- Changes in the skin of the vulva, such as color changes or growths that look like warts or ulcers.
- Lichen Sclerosus can also eventually develop into vulvar cancer, so if you are diagnosed with Lichen Sclerosus, it’s very important to seek a doctor’s help in order to control the condition.
Women who have had HPV or a history of genital warts are at a higher risk of being diagnosed with vulvar cancer. (a)
Although the exact cause of vulvar cancer isn’t known, certain factors appear to increase your risk of the disease, including:
- Increasing age. The risk of vulvar cancer increases with age, though it can occur at any age. The average age at diagnosis is 65.
- Being exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that increases the risk of several cancers, including vulvar cancer and cervical cancer. Many young, sexually active people are exposed to HPV, but for most the infection goes away on its own. For some, the infection causes cell changes and increases the risk of cancer in the future.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
- Having a weakened immune system. People who take medications to suppress the immune system, such as those who’ve undergone organ transplant, and those with conditions that weaken the immune system, such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have an increased risk of vulvar cancer.
- Having a history of precancerous conditions of the vulva. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia is a precancerous condition that increases the risk of vulvar cancer. Most cases of vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia will never develop into cancer, but a small number do go on to become invasive vulvar cancer. For this reason, your doctor may recommend treatment to remove the area of abnormal cells and periodic follow-up checks.
- Having a skin condition involving the vulva. Lichen sclerosus, which causes the vulvar skin to become thin and itchy, increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
Every woman should read this,
If you see any symptoms or changes, then it’s important to consult your doctor to get a proper diagnosis as early as possible.
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