Dr. Michelle White’s Thoughts on Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month
By Dr. Michelle White, MD, FACOG
Vaginal and vulvar cancers are very rare. All women are at risk of these cancers. About 25% of women diagnosed with these cancers die from the disease. For this reason, it is important for every woman to learn about vaginal and vulvar cancers.
Each year, nearly 1,000 women are diagnosed with vaginal cancer and about 3,500 women with vulvar cancer in the U.S. These cancers typically occur in women in their fifties and sixties. Many vaginal and vulvar cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. Other risk factors for these cancers include having cervical precancer or cancer, having a condition that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems, and smoking. Some of these risks can be reduced by the HPV vaccine, limiting sexual partners, and not smoking.
Most vaginal cancers do not cause symptoms early on. When vaginal cancer does cause symptoms, they may include:
- Vaginal discharge or bleeding that is not normal for you
- A change in bathroom habits (blood in the stool or urine, more frequent trips to the bathroom, or constipation)
- Abdomen or pelvic pain especially with urination or sex
Vulvar cancers often cause symptoms that may include:
- Itching, burning or bleeding on the vulva
- Color changes to the skin on the vulva
- Sores, lumps, or ulcers on the vulva that do not go away
- Pelvic pain especially with urination or sex
There are no tests that can find vaginal and vulvar cancers at this time. Your ANNUAL GYN visit is very important to look for signs of vulvar and vaginal cancer. We offer Women’s Wellness visits, HPV vaccinations to girls and women, and assistance with quitting smoking.