Vulvar cancer is cancer that starts in the vulva. Vulvar cancer most often affects the labia, the folds of skin outside the vagina. In some cases, vulvar cancer starts on the clitoris or in glands on the sides of the vaginal opening.
Most vulvar cancers begin in skin cells called squamous cells. Other types of cancers found on the vulva are:
Vulvar cancer is rare. Risk factors include:
Women with a condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) have a high risk of developing vulvar cancer that spreads. Most cases of VIN, though, never lead to cancer.
Other possible risk factors may include:
Women with this condition will often have itching around the vagina for years. They may have used different skin creams. They may also have bleeding.
Other skin changes that may occur around the vulva:
Some women with vulvar cancer have no symptoms.
The following tests are used to diagnose vulvar cancer:
Treatment involves surgery to remove the cancer cells. If the tumor is large (more than 2 cm) or has grown deeply into the skin, the lymph nodes in the groin area may also be removed.
Radiation, with or without chemotherapy, may be used to treat advanced tumors or vulvar cancer that comes back.
You can ease the stress of illness by joining a cancer support group. Sharing with others who have common experiences and problems can help you not feel alone.
Most women with vulvar cancer who are diagnosed and treated at an early stage do well. But a woman's outcome depends on:
The cancer commonly comes back at or near the site of the original tumor.
Complications may include:
Call your health care provider if you have any of these symptoms for more than 2 weeks:
Practicing safer sex may decrease your risk for vulvar cancer. This includes using condoms to protect against sexually transmitted infections (STIs).
A vaccine is available to protect against certain forms of HPV infection. The vaccine is approved to prevent cervical cancer and genital warts. It may help prevent other cancers linked to HPV, such as vulvar cancer. The vaccine is given to young girls before they become sexually active, and to adolescents and women up to age 26.
Routine pelvic exams can help diagnose vulvar cancer at an earlier stage. Earlier diagnosis improves your chances that treatment will be successful.
Reviewed By: Richard LoCicero, MD, private practice specializing in hematology and medical oncology, Longstreet Cancer Center, Gainesville, GA. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.