Around 1,000 women every year are diagnosed with vulval cancer. Most vulval cancers develop from cells called squamous cells. This cancer is called squamous cell carcinoma.
Rarely, a woman can also develop a vulval skin cancer called vulval melanoma, where the pigment in the skin that gives it its color, turns cancerous.
Other types include cancer of the glands in the vulva (adenocarcinoma), cancer of the deepest layer of tissue of the vulva (basal cell carcinoma) and a wart forming cancer.
What are the Symptoms of Vulval Cancer?
• Itching and burning of the vulva
• Patchy skin of the vulva, redness or thickening of the skin
• Bleeding that isn’t a period
• Pain in the vulva
• Burning pain when passing urine
• Pain with sexual intercourse
• Sores on the vulva
• Lumps on the vulva.
Some of these symptoms can be caused by other, less serious and non-cancerous conditions such as vulvodynia, but if you are having any of these symptoms you should see your doctor to get a diagnosis.
Why do Women Get Vulval Cancer?
Women who already have a vulval condition are more likely to get vulval cancer. Conditions like lichen sclerosis and lichen planus of the vulva slightly increase the risk. Women with a history of long-term itching and inflammation of the vulva may be at increased risk of developing vulval cancer, as are women who have been diagnosed with vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), a pre-cancer of the vulva.
Women over the age of 60 are at increased risk, possibly due to hormone changes.
Proportionally more smokers than non-smokers get vulval cancer.
Unprotected sex and infection with types 16, 18 or 31 HPV can cause vulval cancer in women with weaker immune systems. Often, HPV is present in the body and does not cause any harm. Using condoms and limiting the number of sexual partners you have can prevent sexually transmitted HPV.
If you have any unusual symptoms, your doctor will examine your vulva for signs of any changes to the skin, or lumps. If you have any lumps, a small sample of these will be taken, called a biopsy, to be examined under a microscope.