- Posted by jdavis on August 31, 2011
Vulvar cancer is rare. It accounts for 4% of reproductive cancers and only 0.6% of all cancers in women. Nearly 90% of vulvar cancers begin in the squamous cells. Squamous carcinomas that are small and have not spread are highly curable by surgery alone. The second most common type of vulvar cancer is melanoma. Only a small percentage of vulvar cancers are adenocarcinomas. These cancers may develop from Bartholin’s glands, which are at the opening of the vagina or sweat glands in the vulvar skin. If adenocarcinoma cells are found in the vulvar skin, it is called Paget’s disease of the vulva. These cells sometimes may invade deeper tissues.
Doctors don’t know what causes vulvar cancer, but have identified many possible risk factors. Unlike other cancers such as breast or ovarian cancer, there is no hereditary risk for vulvar cancer. This list will help you understand some of the risk factors for vulvar cancer.
Diabetes is a risk factor for vulvar cancer, but doctors do not quite understand the reason why. If you have diabetes and have symptoms of vulvar cancer, such as persistant itching or burning, please see your doctor for an examination.
If you are age 70 or older, you are more at risk for squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of vulvar cancer. Many women diagnosed with this cancer are in their 70’s or older. So if you are of a mature age and have the symptoms of vulvar cancer, please see your doctor.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause genital warts or precancer of the vulvar without visible warts. HPV may also increase the risk for vulvar cancer.
Smoking increases your risk for vulvar cancer. If you smoke and also have genital warts or human papillomavirus (HPV) infection in your genital tract, your risk is even greater for vulvar cancer.
Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a precancerous condition that causes a change in the cells on the surface of the vulva. It may or may not be visible, but having it may increase your risk for the most common type of vulvar cancer, squamous cell carcinoma. It is usually diagnosed with a special test called a colposcopy that is performed by an expert.
Lichen sclerosis, which makes your vulvar skin itchy and thin, slightly increases your risk of getting vulvar cancer.
A family history of melanoma may mean you have a higher risk of getting a melanoma of the vulva. This is a rare kind of vulvar cancer but one that can be quite aggressive. There is no known hereditary risk for other types of vulvar cancer. Any new mole, freckle, or dark spot on the vulva should be checked by your doctor.
Chronic vulvar infections or irritations may also be a risk factor for vulvar cancer. Work with your doctor at improving hygiene or managing infections.
Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) increases your risk for vulvar cancer.