Vulval cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female reproductive system. It includes the opening of the vagina, the inner and outer lips (also called labia minora and labia majora), the clitoris and the mons pubis (soft, fatty mound of tissue, above the labia).
Approximately 150 women are diagnosed with vulval cancer every year in Australia. Elderly patients with a history of other vulval skin disorders or younger patients exposed to the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) are at risk of developing vulval cancer.
Treatment includes surgical removal of the involved vulval skin sometimes requiring plastic surgery to cover the skin defects. Vulval cancer may spread to the lymph nodes in the groins and therefore they need surgical exploration as well. Selected patients require radiotherapy to the vulva, the groins or both. Survival of vulval cancer is generally good, but the side effects from treatment are significant (wound break down, lymphoedema).
Current research focuses on new techniques with which research centres aim to diagnose lymphoedema earlier. The earlier lymphoedema is diagnosed, the more successful treatment will be.