Diagnosis of vulvar cancer
There is no standard screening for vulvar cancer, but if you have any symptoms or irregularities, do not hesitate to consult with your doctor.
Your doctor will take a complete medical history and conduct a physical exam. The only way to be positive of cancer is to do a biopsy, where your doctor collects a small piece of tissue from the area that has changed and sends it to be examined under a microscope by a pathologist.
Your doctor may also choose to do a vulvoscopy, in which he or she will examine the vulva with magnification. They will treat the vulva with a solution that causes suspected areas of vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) and vulvar cancer to turn white.
Your doctor will likely refer you to a gynecologic oncologist, a specialist in female reproductive cancers. They will work to determine the stage of your cancer by checking the size, whether the tumor has grown into other organs, and whether it has metastasized (spread to other parts of your body, such as your lymph nodes).
Imaging tests may also be used. These include but are not limited to a positron emission tomography (PET) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), and chest x-ray.
If you have vulvar cancer, your doctor at Dignity Health will develop a treatment plan that is specific to your needs. The stage of cancer will guide your treatment plan. Surgery is the primary treatment for vulvar cancer. Surgery can be minimally invasive or involve removing vulvar tissues and other pelvic structures.
Women in the later stages of vulvar cancer may have chemotherapy and radiation in addition to surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy are also treatment options for women who cannot have surgery.
After you complete treatment, you will still be monitored closely by your team of doctors. At your follow-up appointments, you’ll discuss your symptoms (if you have any), your medical provider will conduct a physical exam, and he or she may decide to order additional tests.
Most cancer treatments will have side effects that can last from a few weeks to the rest of your life. These will, of course, be discussed at length before you begin treatment, and your doctor will continue to check in about anything you’re experiencing and help you manage it.
You and your doctor will put together a care plan. This plan will lay out a suggested schedule for follow-up visits and tests, schedule early detection screening tests for additional types of cancer, and give you diet and exercise suggestions.
If your cancer does return, the treatment options will depend on the type of cancer and what treatments you had before. It is also vital to seek emotional support from your network or through a professional counselor as you continue on your journey.
The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.