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Vulvar Cancer Fact Sheet

From the GYN Cancer Articles List

Vuvlar cancer fact sheetWhat do I need to know about vulvar cancer?


Vulvar cancer is a type of gynecological cancer that occurs on the outer surface area of the vulva. This includes the opening of the vagina, labia majora, labia minora, and clitoris. The most common types of vulvar cancer include:
  • Vulvar squamous cell carcinoma: Begins in the thin, flat cells that line the surface of the vulva. Most vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas.
  • Adenocarcinoma: Begins in the gland cells. About 8% of vulvar cancers are adenocarcinomas. These most often start in the Bartholin glands.
  • Vulvar melanoma: Begins in the pigment-producing cells found in the skin of the vulva. Vulvar melanomas are rare, making up about 6% of vulvar cancers.
Risk Factors and Prevention

Although the exact cause of vulvar cancer isn’t known, certain factors appear to increase the risk of the disease, including:
  • Increasing age: Though vulvar cancer can occur at any age, the risk increases with age. The average age at diagnosis is 65.
  • Human Papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that increases the risk of several cancers, including vulvar and cervical cancers. Many young, sexually active women are exposed to HPV, but for most the infection goes away on it’s own. For some, the infection causes cell changes and increases the risk of cancer in the future.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
  • Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV): This sexually transmitted virus weakens the immune system, which may make you more susceptible to HPV infections, thereby increasing your risk of vulvar cancer.
  • History of precancerous conditions of the vulva: Precancerous conditions of the vulva, cervix, or vagina, along with a melanoma elsewhere on the body, may increase a woman’s risk of developing vulvar cancer.
  • Skin conditions involving the vulva: Lichen sclerosus, which causes the vulvar skin to become thin and itchy, increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
There are some ways to lower your risk:
  • Delaying first sexual intercourse until late teens or older.
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with multiple partners.
  • Avoiding sexual intercourse with someone who has had many partners.
  • Practicing safe sex, including condom use (although these cannot fully protect against HPV).
  • Having regular gynecologic examinations.
  • Quitting smoking.

Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. Below are some signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer. If you experience these symptoms, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor or your gynecologist.
  • Itching or burning that doesn’t go away
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Bleeding or discharge that isn’t from menstruation
  • Skin changes, such as color changes (areas that are lighter/darker or are red or pink) or a patch of skin that is differently textured or thicker.
  • A lump or wart-like bumps
  • An open sore (ulcer)
  • Painful urination

The earlier vulvar cancer is detected, the better the chances of treating it successfully. Once it spreads to other tissues/organs, it becomes more difficult to treat. Prognostic factors for vulvar cancer include the type and diameter of the tumor and whether it has spread to the lymph nodes.


An Gynecologic Oncologist is the appropriate physician to treat vulvar cancers. Treatment usually involves surgery to remove the cancer and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue. Lymph nodes in the groin may also be removed for testing to help determine whether the disease has advanced. The type of cell in which vulvar cancer begins helps your doctor plan the most effective treatment. Surgery may be combined with radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy depending on the stage of the cancer.

This information has been compiled by staff of HysterSisters.com using data from The Mayo Clinic, The American Cancer Society, The American Society of Clinical Oncology, The Canadian Cancer Society, and Oncolink websites. This content was written by non-medical professionals based on discussions, resources and input from other patients for the purpose of patient-to-patient support.

03-08-2017 - 09:12 PM


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