Vulvar cancer is very rare, and survival rates have improved over the years. The chance of surviving vulvar cancer is relatively high compared with other cancers.

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), in 2023, 1,670 people are estimated to die of vulvar cancer. The current mortality rate is 0.6 per 100,000 people.

Previous statistics showed that almost 70% of people diagnosed between 2013 and 2019 were or were expected to be alive 5 years later. However, people who did die during this period may have died of other causes unrelated to vulvar cancer.

Factors like age and the type of treatments can affect a person’s chance of survival. Older people and those who have no surgical treatment are less likely to survive this type of cancer.

When it comes to cancer, you often hear about both mortality rates and survival rates.

The mortality rate refers to the number of people who died of vulvar cancer in a particular time frame divided by the population total. This is often per 100,000 people.

Survival rate, on the other hand, usually means the percentage of people alive 5 years after being diagnosed with vulvar cancer.

Both mortality and survival rates don’t take individual factors into account, like a person’s age or other health conditions. This means they can’t tell anyone their exact chances of survival. Instead, simply take them as estimates.

Plus, cancer treatment is constantly evolving, so rates can change from year to year.

The way vulvar cancer is classified into stages differs. For example, the SEER database, which tracks survival rates in the United States, groups vulvar cancer into the following:

  • Localized, which means the cancer remains just in the vulva
  • Regional, which is when the cancer has spread to lymph nodes or tissues nearby
  • Distant, which is when vulvar cancer has spread to more distant body parts such as the lungs

You may also read about numbered stages such as:

  • Stage 1: cancer remains in the vulva
  • Stage 2: cancer has spread to nearby tissues
  • Stage 3: cancer has spread to nearby tissues and lymph nodes
  • Stage 4: cancer is advanced and has spread to distant parts of the body

Older people are more likely to be diagnosed with vulvar cancer. Mortality rates tend to increase the older a person is.

The NCI SEER database states that the average age of death from vulvar cancer is 77.

The mortality rate is highest for people over age 84, with that age group making up 28.5% of deaths. Conversely, 20 to 34-year-olds only make up 0.3% of vulvar cancer deaths.

As with most cancers, more advanced vulvar cancer tends to lower the chance of survival.

Localized vulvar cancer currently has a 5-year relative survival rate of almost 86%. That means almost 86% of people are still alive 5 years after being diagnosed.

For regional vulvar cancer, this figure drops to almost 48%. It drops further to 23% for distant cancer cases — the most advanced stage.

As vulvar cancer is rare, statistics are based on smaller numbers of people than other cancers. That means they may be less accurate.

But things like mortality rates are only one factor a doctor will use to determine your overall outlook.

They can also take into account your age and current health, the stage of the cancer when it was diagnosed, and the grade of the cancer.

Factors like race may also need to be considered. For example, non-Hispanic white people are more likely to die from vulvar cancer.

Whether you want to learn more about vulvar cancer or seek support, these organizations can help:

Lauren Sharkey is a U.K.-based journalist and author specializing in women’s issues. When she isn’t trying to discover a way to banish migraines, she can be found uncovering the answers to your lurking health questions. She has also written a book profiling young female activists across the globe and is currently building a community of such resisters. Catch her on Twitter.