MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, and thankfully, vulvar cancer is rare, progression is slow, and it can be treated. But if you let it go on without getting checked by a doctor, it can become much more difficult to treat, and result in more pain and stress on your body.
Seeing a change on your skin can be scary, and even more for some women if they see a change on their vulva. But you should see a doctor if you have any of these symptoms.
“Persistent burning, itching, which lasts for a week or two or more and is not relieved with various over the counter treatments or medications. A lesion, a palpable lesion like a bump on your bottom, that’s something that you would want to go into the gynecologist and get checked out. A discolored area that’s new and different,” said Dr. Michael A. Finan, Professor of Gynecologic Oncology.
Dr. Finan says VIN starts as a very mild condition. He said, “Condylomata acuminata which is a benign condition, essentially like a wart.”
VIN 2 and 3 are used to label women at risk for progression to malignancy, which Dr. Finan says typically takes 5 to 10 years, and like Condyloma, can be treated.
“It needs to be confirmed with a biopsy and once the diagnosis is confirmed, generally, in most cases, we can just excise it, most commonly in the operating room,” Dr. Finan told News 5.
But for some women, VIN may be more difficult to treat.
“The progression to cancer would be more common in women with a compromised immune system, or women who smoke,” Dr. Finan told Cherish Lombard.
VIN is caused by HPV infection, or human papillomavirus, the result of having sex with someone who’s infected. Dr. Finan says the only way to ensure you don’t get it are abstinence or getting the HPV vaccine.
He said, “We’ve got to talk about it. So sexual activity comes in many forms. If we could vaccinate everyone in this country, everyone. If we had a 100-percent vaccination rate we could entirely wipe out cervical cancer and precancerous lesions of the cervix, the vagina, the vulva, most anal cancers, and I think about 1/3 of head and neck cancers.”
First and foremost, know your body, and if there’s any change, get it checked out.
Dr. Finan said, “I’ve seen some horrific problems from women just being embarrassed and in denial. It’s much better if you go in early and be proactive.”
Dr. Finan says once you’re exposed to HPV, it lives in your body for life, although you may not ever experience any symptoms. The HPV vaccine may protect against certain strains of HPV, but it does not protect against other STDs or pregnancy.