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The vulva includes the following main parts:
Bartholin glands, which help lubricate the vagina during sex. One is on each side of the opening of the vagina.
Two skin folds around the opening of the vagina:
- Outer lips (labia majora), which are larger and have hair
- Inner lips (labia minora), which are small and do not have hair
Clitoris, which helps a woman feel sexual stimulation
The main types of vulvar cancer are:
Squamous cell, which is a wart-like growth. Verrucous vulvar cancer is a subtype. This cancer often can be treated successfully. It is the main type of vulvar cancer.
Adenocarcinoma usually starts in the Bartholin glands or sweat glands in the vulva. These make up about 8% of vulvar cancers. Paget disease of the vulva is a type of adenocarcinoma in which the cancer cells are in the top layer of skin.
Melanoma is a skin cancer that starts in cells that make pigment.
Sarcomas may be found in children as well as adults. These rare types of vulvar cancer start in the muscles or bones.
Vulvar cancer statistics
Vulvar cancer is rare. According to the American Cancer Society, about 6,200 women in the United States are diagnosed with it each year. Vulvar cancer usually grows slowly and may begin as precancerous changes that can be treated before they become cancer. The median age of diagnosis for Vulvar cancer is 68, and the disease's five-year survival rate is about 71%.
What is the first stage of vulvar cancer?
The first stage of vulvar cancer is stage 1, which is broken into stage 1A and stage 1B.
1A: The lesion is 2 centimeters or smaller and:
- Is confined to the vulva or perineum (the area between the anus and vagina)
- Has spread into the stroma 1 millimeter or less
- Has not spread into the surrounding lymph nodes
1B: The lesion is more than more than 2 centimeters in size and:
- Has spread 1 millimeter into the stroma
- Is confined to the vulva or perineum
- Has not spread into surrounding lymph nodes
Learn more about the stages of vulvar cancer.
Vulvar cancer causes & risk factors
HPV is the number one risk factor due to certain strains of the disease having a link to cancer. However, anything that increases your chance of getting vulvar cancer is a risk factor. The list of factors include:
- HPV (human papilloma virus): This is the primary risk factor for vulvar cancer.
- Age: More than half of women who develop vulvar cancer are over 70 years old.
- Smoking tobacco
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus)
- Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), a precancerous condition usually caused by HPV
- Cervical cancer
- Melanoma or atypical moles on other parts of the body
- Family history of melanoma
Not everyone with risk factors gets vulvar cancer. However, if you have risk factors, it’s a good idea to discuss them with your health care provider.
Learn more about vulvar cancer:
In rare cases, vulvar cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.
Why come to MD Anderson for vulvar cancer care?
A team of some of the nation's top experts gives you its full attention when you are treated for vulvar cancer in MD Anderson's Gynecologic Oncology Center. They concentrate on customizing your care to include the most advanced treatments with the least impact on your body.
Our physicians target vulvar cancer with the latest technology and treatments, while focusing on quality of life. In order to personalize care and optimize outcomes, each team includes doctors from many specialties, including radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, and plastic and reconstructive surgery. They are joined by a support staff specially trained in caring for women.
As one of the nation's top cancer centers, we care for more women with vulvar cancer each year than many oncologists see in a lifetime. This gives us an extraordinary level of experience and expertise, which may help you have a higher chance for successful treatment.
And at MD Anderson you're surrounded by the strength of one of the nation's largest and most experienced comprehensive cancer centers, which has all the support and wellness services needed to treat the whole person – not just the disease.
This experience is especially important if you need surgery for vulvar cancer, which often is complex and delicate. MD Anderson surgeons, who are among the best in the nation, are highly skilled in the least invasive procedures, which are good options for some women.
If you are a candidate for reconstructive surgery after treatment for vulvar cancer, our plastic surgeons use the most advanced techniques available. They are specialized and experienced – which can have a huge impact on surgical success.
Innovative vulvar cancer research
MD Anderson has led development of many of the current therapies and diagnostic methods for vulvar cancer, including less-invasive surgery, sentinel node biopsy and surgical reconstruction.
And we continue to investigate newer, more-advanced treatments for vulvar cancer. We are one of the top research sites in the country, which means we offer a number of clinical trials for vulvar cancer.
What you have endured can give others hope.
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Prevention & Screening
Many cancers can be prevented with lifestyle changes and regular screening.