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Understanding vulvar and vaginal cancers

  • 04.18.2015
By Jorge Perez, M.D., Ph.D., M.R.C.P., M.R.C. Path.
vulvar and vaginal cancers - Sierra Nevada Cancer Center
This article concludes a series on gynecologic cancers, to help women understand and confront the disease.
It was estimated that, in 2013, about 4,700 cancers of the vulva would be diagnosed, with 990 deaths attributable to the disease. The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals. Vulvar cancer most often affects the inner edges of the labia majora or the labia minora.
The following factors increase the risk of vulvar cancer: Age, as more than half of the cases occur in women over 70; having human papilloma virus (HPV); smoking; having HIV infection; having other genital cancers or having melanoma elsewhere on body. As with cervical cancer, getting the HPV vaccine provides significant protection against vulvar cancer.
The signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer include: Red, pink or white bumps with a wart-like or raw surface; persistent itching; pain, burning, painful urination, bleeding or discharge; a persistent open sore; change in a mole or a distinct mass.
Physicians can treat vulvar pre-cancers (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, or VIN) with topical therapy. The other main types of treatment used for patients with vulvar cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy
Vaginal cancer is rare, accounting for only one of every 100 cancers of the female reproductive system. About 2,890 new cases of vaginal cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2013, and 840 women died from this cancer.
The following factors increase the risk of vaginal cancer: Age, as more than half of the cases occur in women over 70; having a mother who took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES); having vaginal adenosis or HPV; having cervical cancer; smoking or having HIV.
The signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding (often after intercourse); abnormal vaginal discharge; a mass that can be felt and pain during intercourse.
Physicians treat vaginal cancer with surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. For pre-cancers of the vagina, treatments include laser surgery (vaporization) and topical treatments.
Dr. Perez is a medical oncologist with Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. He received his medical degree in his native Colombia. After practicing medicine there, he moved to England to complete a Ph.D. in cellular biochemistry and residency in internal medicine and in chemical pathology. He then completed fellowships in oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and in hematology at Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston, Tex. After practicing in Texas, he brought his expertise and concern for cancer patients to northern Nevada. With several locations including one on the NNMC campus in Sparks, patients can reach Dr. Perez at 775-883-3336.

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