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Cancer of the Vulva

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Cancer of the vulva is a rare female cancer affecting the external genitals. Based on U.S. cancer rates between 2006-2008, it is estimated it will affect 1 in 372 women. The death rate is 0.5 per 100,000. It is a cancer that affects mainly elderly women, although it can occur at any age.

Who is at Risk of Cancer of the Vulva?

Certain groups of women may be more likely to get cancer of the vulva than others. These are the elderly, women who smoke, women with Paget’s disease, and HPV infection.

HPV is often present in the body but may not cause any problems. However, for women whose have impaired immune systems it can cause changes to the vulva and sometimes cancer). About half of all cancers of the vulva are linked to infection with the high-risk HPV types.

Women with pre-existing conditions of the vulva can also be more prone to getting cancer of the vulva, for instance, those with lichen sclerosus or lichen planus of the vulva.

Symptoms are:

• Persistent itching of the vulva
• Burning pain in the vulva
• Soreness and patches on the skin (red, raised or darkened patches)
• Pain when touching the vulva
• Sores or ulcers on the vulva
• Bleeding in between periods
• Burning pain when you urinate
• A lump or swelling on the vulva, possinbly resembling a wart)

If you have any of these symptoms, don’t panic as they may be due to other causes (for instance, sexually transmitted infections, thrush, vulvodynia, etc.) but it is a good idea to get checked by a doctor just in case.


Your doctor will take a full medical history and examine you. This will include an examination of the vulva and a vaginal examination. You may also be given a smear test.

If you are embarrassed or upset you can ask to be examined by a female doctor. If you tell the doctors how you feel they can do things to help you feel less self-conscious, such as putting a sheet over your abdomen.

If you have any lumps, a biopsy will be taken (a small sample of tissue). A local anaesthetic cream will be put on your skin first, followed by an injection so you don’t feel the pain.

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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.