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Vulvar Cancer

What is Vulvar Cancer? The vulva is the part of a woman's reproductive organ that is visible from outside of the body. The vulva consists of the vestibule, the labia majora, the labia minora, and the clitoris. The labia majora is the outer lips of the vagina and the labia minora is the inner lips of the vagina. Most cases of vulvar cancer consist of cancer cells that grow in either the labia majora or labia minora. It is very rare that cancer cells grow in the clitoris. Causes of Vulvar Cancer As with most cancers, exact causes of vulvar cancer are not known.

However, many studies and clinical trials have given, and continue to give strong evidence to support two theories of possible causes. Both DNA mutations and HPV infections have proven to show a direct link to vulvar cancer. There are two types of genes that regulate cell growth. Oncogenes are genes that promote cell growth and division. They speed up the process in which cells grow. Tumor suppressor genes are genes that slow down the process in which cells grow and divide.
A healthy human has a balanced system between the two genes that allow their cells to grow the way they are supposed to, by following the instructions of the DNA. It is believed by many medical experts and health care providers that cancer cells disrupt this system and may be able to change how each of the two genes work, which would allow a cancer to grow easier. HPV infections are sexually transmitted diseases. The link between HPV infections and vulvar cancer is not completely understood. However, about half of sexually active people will obtain an HPV infection at some point in their life, while a little less than half of all cases of vulvar cancer are in some way related to HPV infections. Vulvar Cancer Prevention There are not many preventive measure a woman can take in order to prevent vulvar cancer. There is still a lot about the disease that medical professionals continue to figure out, but do not fully understand. Studies have shown that tobacco smoke can lead to vulvar cancer, as well as lung cancer and many other types of cancers and diseases.
The link between tobacco smoke and vulvar cancer is not fully understood. However, statistics show that women who smoke are twice as likely to get vulvar cancer, than those who do not. Therefore, not smoking cigarettes or tobacco in any way, can help prevent vulvar cancer. Since there is a strong link between HPV infections and vulvar cancer, health care providers suggest that not being sexually active can really help in preventing vulvar cancer. Doctors suggest to not have multiple sex partners, and to not engage in sex acts with someone who has had multiple sex partners. Types of Vulvar Cancer There are two main types of vulvar cancer. They are squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma of the vulva. Adenocarcinoma and Paget's disease are two other types of vulvar cancer. However, they are very rare. Since vulvar cancer itself is rare, adenocarcinoma and Paget's disease account for a very small percentage of cancers in females. Squamous cell vulvar carcinoma accounts for about ninety percent of all vulvar cancer cases in the United States.
Vulvar cancer is a type of skin cancer, and since squamous cells make up most of a human's skin, it is easy to understand why this type of vulvar cancer is more common. Melanoma of the vulva is the second most common type of vulvar cancer. Although, only about one in ten cases of vulvar cancer is a melanoma of the vulva. Melanocytes play a big role in protecting human skin from sun light. If there is too much ultraviolet light exposed, the melanocytes could become cancerous.
The biggest indication that a woman has melanoma of the vulva is if their vagina becomes thicker or changes in appearance, through shape or color. Also, if a new mole appears or an existing mole changes colors, this also may indicate vulvar cancer. Symptoms of Vulvar Cancer A common symptom of vulvar cancer is abnormal bleeding, discharge and leakage from the vagina that is not related to the patient's menstrual cycle. Constant itching is another common vulvar cancer symptom, as well as changes in the skin surrounding the vulva. Common skin related vulvar cancer symptoms can include pinkish or grayish freckles and/or moles, the skin can become much more thicker than usual and this can result in soreness or tenderness. Vulvar Cancer Diagnosis Vulvar cancer is diagnosed by first positively detecting the disease in the patient. This can be done through a surgical procedure, called a biopsy.
Once vulvar cancer is found, the patient's health care provider will perform tests in order to determine what stage the cancer is in and how aggressive it is. There are many tests that can aid the health care provider in figuring this out. These tests include a pap test, endoscopic tests, such as a cystoscopy or a proctoscopy, and X ray tests including a CT (computed tomography) scan, a PET (positron emission tomography) scan, or an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). These tests use different methods to obtain further information about the state of the cancer and the vulva in which it is growing. For a vulvar cancer biopsy, a pathologist will conduct a surgical procedure, in which they remove a sample of tissue from the vulva from the patient. They will then examine the tissue sample under a microscope. If any abnormalities in the tissue exist, they can be clearly seen with the microscope.
Vulvar Cancer Causes: Health care providers are not sure of the exact cause of vulvar cancer. It is suggested by some medical experts that many cases of vulvar cancer have been caused by gene mutations, or changes to the DNA. There have been many cases of vulvar cancer that were caused by HPV infections, according to doctors' best guesses. An HPV infection is a sexually transmitted disease. Also, various types of skin diseases are believed to be linked to some cases of vulvar cancer. DNA provides cells with instructions on how to grow and divide. The cells that do not follow the instructions of the DNA are cancerous. Genes that influence cells to divide are known as oncongenes.  Genes that influence cells to stop dividing, or to decrease the speed at which they divide, are known as tumor suppressor genes. Recent studies suggest that DNA mutations which disrupt the way oncongenes and tumor suppressor genes work, may be linked to causing vulvar cancer, and possibly other cancers. Cancers that are caused by these mutations are most likely to occur while the patients is living, as oppose to being born with the defect. However, research into this possible cause of vulvar cancer suggest that if a patient is born with this specific defect, then it might be due to one of or both parents having smoked cigarettes. While the link is not completely understood, many studies have suggested HPV infections, which are sexually transmitted diseases, may cause vulvar cancer. Statistics show that about half of all people who engage in sex will have some form of an HPV infection at one point during the course of their lives. Less than (but close to) half of vulvar cancer cases are in some way related to HPV infections.
Types of Vulvar Cancer: There are multiple different types of vulvar cancer. The most common type of vulvar cancer is squamous cell carcinoma. Another common type of vulvar cancer is melanoma of the vulva. These two types of the disease account for the majority of vulvar cancer cases. Other types of the disease include adenocarcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, and Paget's disease of the vulva. However, these types of vulvar cancer are very rare. About nine out of ten cases of vulvar cancer are squamous cell carcinoma. The majority of human skin is made up of squamous cells. Since there are so many squamous cells, it is more common for those cells to become cancerous, and thereby lead to a case of squamous cell carcinoma. This type of vulvar cancer usually causes pinkish or white wart like lumps. The vulva will most likely become thicker, and soreness and/or tenderness is common. About fifty percent of those who have squamous cell vulvar carcinoma report constant itching on or around the vulva. It is also common for women who have this type of vulvar cancer to experience pain in and around the vulva, and it is usually painful to urinate while the cancer exists in the patient. Other common symptoms of squamous cell vulvar carcinoma can include abnormal bleeding and leaking unrelated to the patient's menstrual cycle. If the squamous cell vulvar carcinoma is detected in it's initial stage and/or if the cancer is small in size, it can easily be surgically removed. This type of vulvar cancer is the next most common type of vulvar cancer, after squamous cell carcinoma. However, less than ten percent of vulvar cancer cases are identified as melanoma of the vulva. A commonly reported symptom of this type of vulvar cancer is an unusual growth in the skin, in or around the vulva. Also, changes in shape, color, or size in moles that have been present for a long period of time is common with melanoma of the vulva. Adenocarcinoma is another type of cancer that can form in the vulva. Adenocarcinoma is extremely uncommon. This type of vulvar cancer starts in the glands that are present at the exposed opening of the vagina. These glands, called bartholin's glands, create a mucus-like lubricant. Although it is not common, adenocarcinoma can sometimes grow in sweat glands that are present in the vulva. Paget's disease of the vulva is another rare type of vulvar cancer. This type of vulvar cancer forms by adenocarcinoma cells growing in the skin of the vulva. Paget's disease of the vulva often causes the vulva to become pinkish and tender. This type of vulvar cancer can also grow into distant tissue. Most types of vulvar cancer are connected to skin cancers. This is because the vulva is made, in large part, by epithelial tissue. Most types of vulvar cancer grow very slowly, especially squamous cell carcinomas, which account for most of the cases of vulvar cancer. Therefore, if the disease is detected as soon as symptoms are first noticed, there is a good chance that the patient can be cured of the disease through surgery or other forms of treatment.
Vulvar cancer prognosis: Vulvar cancer prognosis is a prediction made by a health care provider. This prediction focuses on how the health care provider thinks the disease will play out in a vulvar cancer patient. There are many factors that play a role in determining the prognosis for vulvar cancer. Some of these factors are only related to the patient and have nothing to do with the disease, while others are directly related to the disease. Some of the factors that can affect the prognosis of vulvar cancer that relate only to the patient and not directly to the disease itself include the patient's age, his or her personal medical history, as well as his or her family medical history. If the patient has a family history of vulvar cancer, their chances of getting the disease are increased. The way the patient responds to chemotherapy drugs can also affect the prognosis later on, after the disease is diagnosed. Other factors that are directly related to the disease will affect the prognosis. These factors can include when the disease was detected, the size of the cancer, and whether metastasis has occurred yet. If the cancer is found in it's early stages, the chances of completely removing the cancer through surgery are much better. If the cancer is in its later stages and metastasis has occurred, surgery alone will not be able to remove the disease. Vulvar cancer statistics do play a big role in the prognosis of the disease. There are close to one thousand deaths caused by vulvar cancer in the United States each year. This means that a little more than twenty percent of vulvar cancer cases result in death. A health care provider will take all of these factors in order to predict if the disease is treatable, how long the disease will last before it is fully treated, the odds of complications occurring, and all other aspects concerning the duration of the disease
Vulvar Cancer Prevention: While exact causes of vulvar cancer are not known, studies and clinical trials have aided theories of how the disease is caused. As a result, these advancements in medicine suggest that certain actions, or exhibiting restraint in certain areas, might be able to prevent the disease. There are still a lot of unknowns when dealing with vulvar cancer prevention. However, there are some preventive measures that individuals can take in order to lower their chances of getting the disease. The two areas that are believed to be heavily linked to vulvar cancer are sex and tobacco smoke. HPV infections are believed to either cause vulvar cancer or influence cells to become cancerous in or near the vulva. Though it is not known why, HPV infections are more common in females under the age of thirty. Therefore, in order to prevent vulvar cancer, if possible, young women should not engage in sex at an early age. Women should not have sex with multiple people, and should not engage in sex with a partner who has had sex with many people. It is also suggested that women should may benefit from abstaining from sex with a male who is not circumcised. Men who are not circumcised have a higher chance of obtain an HPV infection, because the foreskin on the penis that was not removed, can be infected by HPV much easier than a a penis that is circumcised. The link between smoking cigarettes and vulvar cancer is not one hundred percent clear. However, studies and clinical trials dealing with the connection show that females who smoke are twice as likely to develop vulvar cancer than those who do not smoke. Not smoking can also decrease a woman's chances of getting other cancers. Other cancers that can be caused by smoking include kidney, bladder, mouth, throat and lung cancer.
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