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Gynaecologic Problems: Vulvar Cancer


Vulvar cancer is a malignancy that can occur on any part of the external organs, but most often affects the labia majora or labia minora. Cancer of the vulva is a rare disease, which accounts for half of one percent of all cancers in women, and may form slowly over many years. Nearly 90% of vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. Melanoma is the second most common type of vulvar cancer, usually found in the labia minora or clitoris. Other types of vulvar cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma
  • Paget's disease
  • Sarcomas
  • Verrucous carcinoma
  • Basal cell carcinoma

For information on the other main cancers to affect the female reproductive system go here .

Risk Factors

The following have been suggested as risk factors for vulvar cancer:
  • Age - of the women who develop vulvar cancer, three-fourths are over age 50, and two-thirds are over age 70.
  • Infection with the human papillomavirus (HPV)
  • Smoking .
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection.
  • Low socioeconomic status .
  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) - there is an increased risk for vulvar cancer in women with VIN, although most cases do not progress to cancer.
  • Lichen sclerosus - can cause the vulval skin to become very itchy and may slightly increase the possibility of vulvar cancer.
  • Chronic vulvar inflammation .
  • Other genital cancers .
  • Melanoma or atypical moles on non-vulvar skin - a family history of melanoma and dysplastic nevi anywhere on the body may increase the risk of vulvar cancer.

Symptoms and Signs

A woman should consult her physician if she experiences any/all of the following:

  • Constant itching.
  • Changes in the colour and the way the vulva looks.
  • Bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation.
  • Severe burning/itching or pain.
  • Skin of the vulva looks white and feels rough.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Vulvar cancer is diagnosed by biopsy , removing a section of tissue for examination in a laboratory by a pathologist.

Treatment for patients with cancer of the vulva may include:

  • Surgery , including:
     - Laser
     - Excision
     - Vulvectomy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy

The information in this page is presented in summarised form and has been taken from the following source(s) :
1. Motherisk, The Hospital for Sick Children:

Other HON resources 
   From MedHunt

Cancer in women
    From HONselect
     (def;articles & more)   



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Contact Last modified: Jun 25 2002