Vulvar cancer is a less common gynecological cancer. HPV infection, smoking, and having a precancerous condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia all increase the risk. Outlook for vulvar cancer is best when you receive the diagnosis and treatment early.

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Vulvar cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the vulva, the outer portion of the female genitals. It includes areas like the vaginal opening, labia majora and minora, clitoris, and Bartholin glands.

Overall, vulvar cancer is an uncommon type of cancer. Below, we’ll discuss how common vulvar cancer is, who’s at an increased risk, and the outlook for this type of cancer.

Find out more about vulvar cancer.

Vulvar cancer isn’t that common. It’s estimated to make up only 4% of all gynecological cancers.

The lifetime risk of developing vulvar cancer is 0.3%. The American Cancer Society estimates that 6,900 new diagnoses of vulvar cancer will be made in the United States in 2024.

The most common type of vulvar cancer is called squamous cell cancer (SCC). This type of vulvar cancer makes up about 90% of all diagnoses.

Some people have a higher risk of vulvar cancer. The risk factors for vulvar cancer include:

It’s important to know that having one or more of the risk factors above doesn’t mean you’ll certainly develop vulvar cancer. It means that you’re at a higher risk of vulvar cancer than a person without the risk factors.

Vulvar cancer can happen at any age, but most people who develop it are older. The SEER program of the National Cancer Institute notes that most people who receive a diagnosis are between ages 65 and 74 years, with 69 years as the median age at diagnosis.

SCC, the most common type of vulvar cancer, is typically preceded by a precancerous condition called VIN. VIN may or may not have an association with HPV infection. HPV-related VIN is more common in younger individuals.

Vulvar cancer may not spread that quickly. For example, 59% of vulvar cancer diagnoses happen while they’re still only in the vulva and haven’t spread into nearby or distant tissues.

Learn more about how and if vulvar cancer may spread.

According to the SEER program, the 5-year survival rates for people receiving vulvar cancer diagnoses between the years of 2014 and 2020 were:

  • 86.3% when the cancer is only in the vulva
  • 47.1% when the cancer has spread into nearby tissues and lymph nodes
  • 21.1% when the cancer has metastasized
  • 62.1% overall

Five-year survival rates measure the percentage of people with a certain type and stage of cancer who are alive five years after receiving their diagnosis.

Because these statistics include data from a large number of people over a long span of time, they don’t account for recent advances in treatment or specific individual factors like age and overall health.

The outlook for vulvar cancer can depend on many different factors. These include:

  • the specific type of vulvar cancer that you have
  • the extent or stage, of the cancer
  • the type of treatment used and how the cancer responds to it
  • whether or not the cancer has recurred
  • your age and overall health

Generally speaking, the outlook is typically less favorable for vulvar cancers that:

Every individual with vulvar cancer is different. If you’ve received a diagnosis of vulvar cancer, have an open conversation with your oncology team about your individual outlook and what to expect going forward.

There’s no way to prevent vulvar cancer for sure, but there are steps you can take that can help to reduce your risk. One of these is to get the HPV vaccine, which protects against types of HPV that have an association with vulvar cancer.

Doctors typically give the HPV vaccine to preteens from ages 11 to 12 years, but adolescents and adults can also receive it. You can also lower your risk for HPV by reducing your number of sexual partners and using a condom or other barrier method during sex.

Quitting smoking if you smoke can also reduce your risk of vulvar and several other cancers or health conditions. Working with your doctor to develop a quit plan can be helpful.

Lastly, it’s important to see your gynecologist for regular pelvic checkups. Doing this can ensure that your doctor detects any precancerous or cancerous conditions early.

What are the warning signs of vulvar cancer?

Some of the potential warning signs of vulvar cancer that it’s important to see a doctor about are:

  • a lump, warty growth, or ulcer anywhere on your vulva
  • persistent itching or pain around your vulva
  • discharge or bleeding that’s not related to your period

Is vulvar cancer rare?

Vulvar cancer is much less common than many other gynecological cancers. For example, cancers of the uterus, ovaries, and cervix are all more common than vulvar cancer in the United States.

How curable is vulvar cancer?

The outlook for vulvar cancer is best when it’s detected early. When detected at an early stage, doctors can remove it completely. More advanced vulvar cancer is harder to treat.

Vulvar cancer isn’t common. It only makes up a small percentage of gynecological cancers, with those of the uterus, ovaries, and cervix being more common.

Risk factors for vulvar cancer include older age, HPV infection, VIN, and smoking. You can reduce your risk of vulvar cancer by getting the HPV vaccine, quitting smoking, and having regular pelvic checkups.

The outlook for vulvar cancer is best when you receive its diagnosis early. Be sure to see your doctor if you notice an atypical lump or lesion on your vulva that may happen with itching, pain, or unusual discharge.