Vulvar cancer begins in the tissues of the vulva, the external part of the female genitalia, including labia majora and minora (inner and outer lips, or skin folds), clitoris and vaginal opening. Vulvar cancer most often affects the vaginal lips (the edges of the labia). Cancer is diagnosed when healthy cells mutate (abnormally change) and form a mass. Precancerous cells typically develop first on the vulva. At this stage, it’s known as vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, more commonly referred to as dysplasia. While many vulvar dysplasias do not become cancerous, some do. If a woman has vulvar dysplasia, she should treat it as soon as it is discovered, to reduce the chances of the disease worsening and spreading. A patient with a persistent lesion on the vulva should be seen by gynecologist or dermatologist.
Vulvar cancer is relatively rare. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 6,120 women in the United States will be diagnosed with this form of cancer in 2020.
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