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What Are the Most Common Vulvar Cancer Symptoms?

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  • Written By: Clara Kedrek
  • Edited By: Jessica Seminara
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2016
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Vulvar cancer, a rare cancer of the female reproductive tract, can cause a number of different symptoms. The most common vulvar cancer symptoms are visible changes to the vulva itself, including the development of lesions in the overlying skin. Growth of the cancer into surrounding structures can cause problems with urination or sexual intercourse. Spread of the disease to distant parts of the body is rare, but can cause symptoms such as shortness of breath or forgetfulness.

One of the most common vulvar cancer symptoms is developing abnormalities in the appearance of the vulva; these skin lesions can take a number of different forms. Some patients develop a plaque, which is a localized area of skin thickening, hardening, and discoloration. Others can have an ulcer, which is an indentation of the skin due to the loss of the normal protective surface. Skin proliferation, which can appear as a mass or tumor, is another presentation of this type of malignancy. This growth can be firm or soft, and can either have clear borders or irregular margins.

The lesions that develop as one of the vulvar cancer symptoms often cause patients a variety of problems. Many times these vulvar abnormalities are itchy. Sometimes the lesions are painful, especially if the malignancy has eroded the protective outer surface of the vulva. They can also bleed or exude a whitish fluid.

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If the malignancy invades surrounding areas of the body, other vulvar cancer symptoms are possible. The cancer can grow from the vulva into the urethra, which is the tube that connects the bladder to the outside of the body. Invasion of the urethra can result in painful urination, blood in the urine, or obstruction of the flow of urine out of the body. The vagina is another common place where vulvar cancer can invade. Involvement of this region can cause abnormal bleeding and pain with sexual intercourse.

Vulvar cancer not only spreads by direct extension into surrounding body structures, but also can travel through the blood or lymphatic system to distant parts of the body in a process known as metastasis. One of the first locations for the cancer to spread is to the lymph nodes in the groin. Symptoms of this process could include swelling and pain in this region.

Spread of the cancer to distant locations of the body can result in other, less obvious vulvar cancer symptoms. For example, spread of the cancer to the lung could result in shortness of breath or cough. Growth of the cancer in the brain could cause problems with memory. Metastases to the liver could cause jaundice, nausea, or abdominal pain.

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