Q: What is vulvar cancer?
A: Vulvar cancer is cancer that starts in the vulva, which is the outer part of the female reproductive system. The vulva includes the skin folds under the pubic hair that protects the urethra and vagina. Vulvar cancer is rare, in that it represents only about 4% of all female reproductive organ cancers. If it is found in its early stages, vulvar cancer is highly curable.
Q: Who gets vulvar cancer?
A: About 3,740 women will be diagnosed with vulvar cancer this year in the United States. The majority of women with vulvar cancer are older than 50. Half are older than 70 at the time they learn they have cancer. However, 15% of people diagnosed with vulvar cancer are younger than 40.
Q: What are the risk factors for vulvar cancer?
A: Certain factors can make women more likely to get vulvar cancer. These are called risk factors. Just because a woman has one or more risk factors does not mean she will get vulvar cancer. In fact, a woman can have all of the risk factors and still not get the disease. Or, a woman can have no known risk factors and get vulvar cancer. Doctors are not exactly sure what causes vulvar cancer but these are some possible risk factors.
Age: Women older than 50 are more at risk for squamous cell carcinoma, which is the most common type of vulvar cancer. HPV infection. Human papillomaviruses (HPV) are a group of viruses that can cause genital warts. Women infected with HPV may be more at risk for vulvar cancer.
Smoking: Smoking increases your risk for vulvar cancer. If you have smoke and have genital warts, you are at an even greater risk for vulvar cancer. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). This condition causes a change in the cells on the surface of the vulva's lining. Women with VIN may be more likely to develop vulvar cancer. Lichen scierosus. Women with this condition have vulvar skin that is itchy and thin. These women are at a slightly higher risk of getting vulvar cancer.
Family history of melanoma: Women with a family history of melanoma or atypical moles have a higher risk of getting a melanoma of the vulva. Chronic inflammation of the vulva.