February 24, 2008

Sex Doctor: the Hidden Sex Killer ; Issue of the Week

By Dr Catherine Hood

CANCER can develop in any part of the genital area. One of the lesser-known is vulval cancer, but it's important to be aware of it. The disease affects only about 1,000 women in the UK every year - most of whom are over 50 - and the symptoms are easily overlooked.

Where does it develop?

CANCER of the vulva can start on any part of the female external sex organs but it is most common on edges of the inner and outer lips.

It's not a fast-growing cancer. First the cells become abnormal - so-called precancerous changes - then cancer can develop. These early changes are called VIN - or vulval intraepithelial neoplasia. VIN can be treated if detected.

What are the causes?

THE human papilloma virus is thought to be responsible for many vulval cancers. This virus is spread during sex and only a small minority of those infected will develop problems.

The presence of other skin conditions such as lichen planus and lichen sclerosis can increase your chances of developing cancer.

What are the symptoms?

VIN and vulval cancer have a wide range of symptoms including prolonged itching, soreness, pain passing urine and vaginal discharge. Common symptoms are also similar to an infection like thrush.

But some symptoms are more suggestive of cancer, such as a lump or swelling, an open sore or thickened, raised, red or white patches on the skin.

If you have persistent problems with ulceration or itching that isn't settling with treatment, then you need to see your GP for an examination just to rule out VIN.

For more information go to www.cancerhelp. org.uk

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