Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer is a rare disease in which cancer cells form in the tissues of the vulva. It can form in a woman's external genitalia which includes:

  • Inner and outer lips of the vagina
  • Clitoris
  • Opening of the vagina and its glands
  • Mons pubis (the rounded area in front of the pubic bones that becomes covered with hair at puberty)
  • Perineum (the area between the vulva and the anus)

Source: National Cancer Institute

Risk factors

In the United States, vulvar cancer accounts for about 4% of cancers of the female reproductive organs and 0.6% of all cancers in women. Women have a 1 in 333 chance of developing vulvar cancer at some point during their life.

 Factors that may increase a woman's risk include:

  • Having vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).
  • Having human papilloma virus (HPV) infection.
  • Having a history of genital warts.
  • Having many sexual partners.
  • Having first sexual intercourse at a young age.
  • Having a history of abnormal Pap tests (Pap smears).

Source: American Cancer Society

Symptoms

Vulvar cancer often does not cause early signs or symptoms. Signs and symptoms may be caused by vulvar cancer or by other conditions. Check with your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • A lump or growth on the vulva
  • Changes in the vulvar skin, such as color changes or growths that look like a wart or ulcer
  • Itching in the vulvar area, that does not go away
  • Bleeding not related to menstruation (periods)
  • Tenderness in the vulvar area

Learn more about risk factors, staging and treatment from the American Cancer Society.

Source: National Cancer Institute

Treatment

After the stage of your vulvar cancer has been established, your cancer care team will recommend a treatment strategy. The choice of treatment depends largely on the stage of the disease at the time of diagnosis, but other factors can play a part in choosing the best treatment plan, such as your age, your general health, your individual circumstances, and your preferences.

Depending on the type and stage of your vulvar cancer, you may need more than one type of treatment.

The three main types of treatment used for patients with vulvar cancer include:

  • Surgery
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

Vulvar pre-cancers (vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or VIN) can also be treated with topical therapy.

For information about some of the most common approaches used based on the type of vulvar cancer, see Treatment Options for Squamous Cell Vulvar Cancer by Stage, Treatment of Vulvar Adenocarcinoma and Treatment of Vulvar Melanoma.

Source: American Cancer Society