Vulvar precancer

What is precancer of the vulvar?

Precancerous conditions of the vulva (the area of skin around the vagina, including the clitoris and labia) are the changes that occur to the vulvar cells, which makes them likely to develop into cancer if they are left undetected and unmanaged. The growth of these cells is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), or dysplasia.

It does not mean that these abnormal changes are cancerous as of yet but they must be regularly monitored by your doctor to prevent them from developing into vulvar cancer at a later stage.

What are the symptoms?

Vulvar cancer tends to grow slowly over several years and doesn’t cause symptoms at first. If you notice any of the following, you must visit your gynaecologist for testing:

  • A lump in the vulva
  • Itching or tenderness 
  • Bleeding that is not your period
  • Any changes to the skin, such as colour or growth that looks like a wart or an ulcer.

How does my doctor diagnose vulvar precancer?

After making a physical examination, it is likely that you will need a biopsy to be sure of the diagnosis. This is carried out by taking a piece of tissue from the part of the vulva that has changed. The tissue cells are sent to a laboratory where they are tested for precancer or cancer.

How can I reduce my risk of VIN?

If you have been diagnosed with vulvar precancer, you must regularly pay close attention to your body, by taking regular self-examinations of your vulvar. It is important to keep having regular check-ups with your doctor and to tell them if you have pain or burning or notice any other changes.

Finding and treating VIN early helps reduce the chance of these cells progressing to cancer. Regular pelvic examinations will reduce the risk of vulvar cancer.

How is vulvar precancer treated?

Depending on the exact symptoms of VIN, your doctor will discuss the treatment plan that suits your individual case.

In some cases, topical medicine can be applied to the changed skin of the vulva. This may be called topical chemotherapy.

Surgery is often used to cut out the changed area of skin and an edge of normal tissue around it. This process ensures that all the changed cells have been removed. Laser treatment is another option, which is used to burn the VIN cells.

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