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Vulvar cancer

This page was reviewed under our medical and editorial policy by Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science

This page was updated on July 20, 2022.

Cancer of the vulva—the external part of the female genitalia—is relatively rare. The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 6,900 women in the United States will be diagnosed with this form of cancer in 2024. Squamous cell cancer is the most common type of vulvar cancer.

No vulvar cancer patient is the same. Get personalized treatment.

Vulvar cancer is such an important focus at City of Hope that our Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix hospitals have a Gynecologic Cancer Center, focusing on the treatment of women with cancer of the reproductive organs.

Our gynecologic oncologists are experienced and trained in diagnosing, staging and treating all stages of vulvar cancer. They will work with other oncologists, specialists and clinicians in developing a comprehensive treatment plan tailored to your individual needs. Each patient’s treatment plan also includes supportive care therapies designed to help manage the side effects of cancer and its treatment and support the patient’s quality of life.

This overview will cover the basic facts about vulvar cancer, including:

If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of vulvar cancer and want to schedule an appointment for diagnostic testing, or if you’re interested in a second opinion on your vulvar cancer diagnosis and treatment plan, call us or chat online with a member of our team.

What causes vulvar cancer?

Who gets vulvar cancer?

Approximately 80 percent of vulvar cancer cases occur in women over the age of 50. More than half of cases occur in women aged 70 or older. Women who smoke are at increased risk of vulvar cancer.

Vulvar cancer types

Types of vulvar cancer may include:

  • Squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of vulvar cancer
  • Adenocarcinoma, which usually begins in the Bartholin’s glands, just inside the opening of the vagina, and is related to Paget’s disease, a skin cancer where adenocarcinoma cells are restricted to the layer of the skin of the vulva
  • Vulvar melanoma and basal cell carcinomas and sarcomas, which may also be forms of vulvar adenocarcinomas

Learn more about vulvar cancer types

Vulvar cancer symptoms

Diagnosing vulvar cancer

The first step in diagnosing vulvar cancer involves a thorough pelvic exam. The doctor will examine your vulvar area, perineum, anus, rectum, bladder, ovaries, vagina and uterus for unusual changes. A Pap test and/or HPV test may also be performed.

Diagnostic tests to evaluate vulvar cancer may also include:

Learn more about diagnostic procedures for vulvar cancer

Vulvar cancer treatments

Diagnosis and treatment options at our City of Hope Gynecologic Cancer Centers

At City of Hope, we recognize that vulvar cancer, like other cancers of the female reproductive system, affect women in unique ways. That’s why we created the Women’s Cancer Center at our Atlanta, Chicago and Phoenix hospitals, located around the country. At these specially designed centers, our multidisciplinary team of doctors and clinicians are singularly focused on screening, diagnosing and treating breast cancer and gynecologic cancers with a sense of urgency. Our supportive care services are designed to help address symptoms and side effects, to help you have the strength and stamina to continue your treatment and the quality of life to help you continue everyday activities throughout your cancer journey.

Within each Women’s Cancer Center, we offer patients with vulvar and other gynecologic patients even more specialized care at our Gynecologic Cancer Centers, where our care teams treat each patient’s specific cancer using standard-of-care and, when appropriate, innovative precision medicine treatments.

Once your diagnostic tests are complete, your multidisciplinary team of vulvar cancer experts will meet with you to discuss your results, answer your questions and recommend treatment options. Your personalized care plan is based on your unique vulvar cancer diagnosis and needs. Your care team will take into account your medical history, personal goals and preferences, then work with you to create a comprehensive treatment plan.

They also share the ways supportive care services may be incorporated into your plan. Treatments for vulvar cancer may cause side effects such as fatigue, weakness, nausea and lymphedema. They may also cause pain and pelvic floor weakness that may trigger sexual health challenges. That’s why each City of Hope Gynecologic Cancer Center offers both sexual health counseling and oncology rehabilitation exercises that are designed to help you restore function and overcome relationship challenges.