Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over years, most often on the vaginal lips or the sides of the vaginal opening. Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) causes about half of all vulvar cancers. Explore the links on this page to learn more about vulvar cancer treatment, statistics, research, and clinical trials.
Vulvar Cancer Treatment
- Vulvar cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the vulva.
- Having vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or HPV infection can affect the risk of vulvar cancer.
- Signs of vulvar cancer include bleeding or itching.
- Tests that examine the vulva are used to detect (find) and diagnose vulvar cancer.
- Certain factors affect prognosis (chance of recovery) and treatment options.
Vulvar cancer is a rare disease in which malignant (cancer) cells form in the tissues of the vulva.
Vulvar cancer forms in a woman’s external genitalia. The vulva includes:
- Inner and outer lips of the vagina.
- Clitoris (sensitive tissue between the lips).
- 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).
Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips. Less often, cancer affects the inner vaginal lips, clitoris, or vaginal glands.
Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over a number of years. Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Because it is possible for VIN to become vulvar cancer, it is very important to get treatment.
Having vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia or HPV infection can affect the risk of vulvar cancer.
Anything that increases your risk of getting a disease is called a risk factor. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer; not having risk factors doesn’t mean that you will not get cancer. Talk with your doctor if you think you may be at risk. Risk factors for vulvar cancer include the following:
- Having vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).
- Having human papillomavirus (HPV) infection.
- Having a history of genital warts.
Other possible risk factors include the following:
- Having many sexual partners.
- Having first sexual intercourse at a young age.
- Having a history of abnormal Pap tests (Pap smears).
Signs of vulvar cancer include bleeding or itching.
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.
Stages of Vulvar Cancer
In stage I, cancer has formed. The tumor is found only in the vulva or perineum (area between the rectum and the vagina). Stage I is divided into stages IA and IB.
- In stage IA, the tumor is 2 centimeters or smaller and has spread 1 millimeter or less into the tissue of the vulva. Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
- In stage IB, the tumor is larger than 2 centimeters or has spread more than 1 millimeter into the tissue of the vulva. Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodel.
In stage II, the tumor is any size and has spread into the lower part of the urethra, the lower part of the vagina, or the anus. Cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes.
In stage III, the tumor is any size and may have spread into the lower part of the urethra, the lower part of the vagina, or the anus. Cancer has spread to one or more nearby lymph nodes. Stage III is divided into stages IIIA, IIIB, and IIIC.
- In stage IIIA, cancer is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes that are smaller than 5 millimeters or in one lymph node that is 5 millimeters or larger.
- In stage IIIB, cancer is found in 2 or more lymph nodes that are 5 millimeters or larger, or in 3 or more lymph nodes that are smaller than 5 millimeters.
- In stage IIIC, cancer is found in lymph nodes and has spread to the outside surface of the lymph nodes.
In stage IV, the tumor has spread into the upper part of the urethra, the upper part of the vagina, or to other parts of the body. Stage IV is divided into stages IVA and IVB.
- In stage IVA:
- cancer has spread into the lining of the upper urethra, the upper vagina, the bladder, or the rectum, or has attached to the pelvic bone; or
- cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and the lymph nodes are not moveable or have formed an ulcer.
- In stage IVB, cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the pelvis or to other parts of the body.
There are different types of treatment for patients with vulvar cancer.
Different types of treatments are available for patients with vulvar cancer. Some treatments are standard (the currently used treatment), and some are being tested in clinical trials. A treatment clinical trial is a research study meant to help improve current treatments or obtain information on new treatments for patients with cancer. When clinical trials show that a new treatment is better than the standard treatment, the new treatment may become the standard treatment. Patients may want to think about taking part in a clinical trial. Some clinical trials are open only to patients who have not started treatment.