by Cynthia M. Johnson, MA
The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals that includes the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. There are different type of cancer that can occur in this area including:
Cancerous (malignant) tumors can invade nearby tissue and spread to other parts of the body.
Cancer occurs when cells in the body, in this case vulvar cells, divide without control or order. Eventually these cells can develop into a mass of tissue called a growth or tumor.
A healthy cell changes into a cancerous cell because of changes in the DNA. The exact reason the change happens is not clear but it is likely due to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.
This condition is more common in women 65 to 75 years of age.
Factors that may increase your chance of vulvar cancer include:
Symptoms may include:
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. This will include a pelvic exam of your uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina. Your doctor may order blood tests.
The physical exam combined with all of your test results will help to determine the stage of cancer you have. Staging is used to guide your treatment plan. Like other cancers, vulvar cancer is staged from 0-IV (0-4):
The biopsy will also determine the grade and type of your tumor. These can predict how aggressive a tumor may be and help to determine the treatment.
You and your doctor will determine which treatment or combinations of treatments work best for you, depending on the location, type, stage and grade of your tumor. Cancer treatment often includes a combination of the following treatments:
Surgery involves removing as much of the cancer as possible. Types of surgery to treat vulvar cancer include:
Radiation therapy is the use of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. External radiation directs radiation at the tumor from a source outside the body. It is sometimes used along with chemotherapy to treat more advanced cancers. It may be used to shrink tumors before surgery or kill any remaining cancer cells after surgery.
Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be given in many forms, including pill, injection, or via a catheter. The drugs enter the bloodstream and travel through the body killing mostly cancer cells, but also some healthy cells.
To help reduce your chance of vulvar cancer:
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
Vaginal and vulvar cancers. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/vagvulv. Updated March 13, 2014. Accessed January 5, 2018.
Vulvar cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/cancer/vulvar-cancer.html. Accessed January 5, 2018.
Vulvar cancer. Family Doctor—American Academy of Family Physicians website. Available at: https://familydoctor.org/condition/vulvar-cancer. Updated May 2014. Accessed January 5, 2018.
Vulvar cancer treatment. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/types/vulvar/patient/vulvar-treatment-pdq. Updated October 13, 2017. Accessed January 5, 2018.
What is vulvar cancer? Canadian Cancer Society website. Available at:
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Accessed January 5, 2018.
Last reviewed November 2018 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP
Last Last updated: 11/18/2016
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