Vulval cancer (also known as vulva cancer) is a cancer type that arises on the external female reproductive organs. This type of cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the tissues of the vulva grow in an uncontrolled way.
The external female reproductive organs inlcude the labia majora, labia minora, clitoris and urethra, and can also affect the perineum skin (skin between the vulva and anus). The most common areas for it to develop are the inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora. Less often, vulval cancer may also involve the clitoris or the Bartholin’s glands (small glands, one on each side of the vagina).
There are several types of vulval cancers, and these can have different risk factors, growth rates and treatment requirements. These types include squamous cell carcinomas, vulval melanomas, adenocarcinomas, verrucous carcinomas and sarcomas.
Vulva cancer symptoms
If you have vulval cancer, you may experience these common symptoms:
- A lump somewhere on the vulva, commonly on the inner edges of the labia majora or labia minora
- Vulval itching
- Colour changes in the skin of the vulva
- Growths on the vulva that look like warts or ulcers
- Vaginal bleeding that is not menstruation
- Tenderness of the vulval area
Please consult your doctor if you are experiencing any of the above symptoms.
Unlike other gynaecological cancers, vulval cancer is not hereditary.
Cancer of the vulva, like other cancers, is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people. An inherited faulty gene does not cause it, and so other members of your family are not likely to be at risk of developing it.
The known risk factors for vulval cancer are:
- Precancerous conditions – Vulval cancer can develop from usual type vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (uVIN), a pre-cancerous skin lesion that is linked to human papilloma virus (HPV). Treatment for uVIN can help prevent it from progressing to cancer.
- Pre-existing skin conditions such as vulval lichen sclerosus and vulval lichen planus have a heightened risk of developing vulval cancer pre-cancer and vulval cancer.
- Smoking – smoking weakens the immune system and can increase the risk of developing HPV associated uVIN and vulval cancer.
About vulva cancer research
Funds raised through WomenCan go to support the Australia New Zealand Gynaecological Oncology Group’s (ANZGOG) clinical trials across 59 hospitals in the region. ANZGOG is a leading vulval cancer research foundation that runs clinical research trials for vulval and other forms of gynaecological cancer.
Vulva cancer statistics
- Approximately 420 Australian women are affected by vulval cancer annually (year ending 2015)
- Almost two thirds of vulval cancer occurs in women who have pre-existing lichen sclerosis (only 1–2% of women with lichen sclerosus will go on to develop vulval cancer)
- When diagnosed and treated quickly, the five-year survival rate of vulval cancer is 74%
"Support gynaecological research, it can help save someone you love."
Dr G. Raj Mohan, ANZGOG member
Support Vulva Cancer Research in Australia and New Zealand
When you donate to WomenCan, you’re helping us change the lives of women in Australia and around the world by fast-tracking cutting edge treatments and discovering the best methods for vulval cancer treatment.