What Is It?
Vulvar cancer occurs in the vulva, the external genital area of a woman's reproductive system. Vulvar cancer can affect any part of the vulva, including the labia, the mons pubis (the skin and tissue that cover the pubic bone), the clitoris, or the vaginal or urethral openings. Most commonly, it affects the inner edges of the labia majora or labia minora.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 90% of vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer starts in the squamous cells, the main type of cells that make up the skin. Squamous cell cancer usually develops slowly over many years. Before the cancer forms, abnormal cells usually develop in the surface layer of the skin, called the epithelium. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia.
The second most common form of cancer of the vulva is melanoma. The American Cancer Society estimates that melanoma accounts for about 4% of vulvar cancers and usually occurs on the labia minora or the clitoris. More uncommon forms of vulvar cancer include Bartholin gland adenocarcinoma and Paget's disease. Less than 2% of vulvar cancers are sarcomas, cancer of the connective tissue underlying the skin. Sarcomas can occur at any age.
According to the American Cancer Society, vulvar cancer is uncommon, accounting for approximately 4% of cancers of the female reproductive system and 0.6% of all cancers in women. Seventy-fivepercent of women who have vulvar cancer are over 50 years old, and two-thirds of women are older than 70 when first diagnosed. However, more cases are occurring in younger women. Fifteen percent of new cases now appear in women under 40 years old.
Common symptoms of vulvar cancer and vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia include:
Persistent itching or burning pain anywhere on the vulva
A red, pink, or white lump with a wartlike or raw surface
A white and rough area on the vulva
Painful urination or bleeding
A discharge not associated with your period
An ulcer that lasts more than a month