Doctors don’t know what causes vulvar cancer, but they have identified many possible risk factors, including advancing age and infection with HPV.
Doctors don't know exactly what causes vulvar cancer, but they have identified many possible risk factors. These risk factors can make one woman more likely to get vulvar cancer than another woman. Just because a woman has one or more risk factors does not mean she will get vulvar cancer. In fact, a woman can have all of the risk factors and still not get the disease. Or, a woman can have no known risk factors and get vulvar cancer. Unlike other cancers, such as breast or ovarian cancer, there is no hereditary risk for vulvar cancer. This list will help you understand some of the risk factors for vulvar cancer.
I am a woman age 50 or older
If so, you are more at risk for squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of vulvar cancer. More than half of the women diagnosed with this cancer are over 70 years old.
I am a woman infected with human papillomavirus (HPV)
Some types of HPV are considered high risk and have been linked to oral, anal, and genital cancers. These high-risk types of HPV increase the risk of vulvar cancer.
I am a woman who smokes
Smoking increases your risk for a number of cancers, including vulvar cancer. If you smoke and also have a history of HPV infection, your risk is even greater for vulvar cancer.
I've been diagnosed with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), also called dysplasia
This precancerous condition causes a change in the cells on the surface of the vulva's lining. It may or may not be visible, but having it may increase your risk for the most common type of vulvar cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
I have lichen sclerosus
This condition, which makes the skin on the vulva itchy and thin, slightly increases your risk of getting vulvar cancer.
People in my family have had melanoma
If you or someone in your family has had melanoma or atypical moles, you have a higher risk of getting a melanoma of the vulva. There is no known hereditary risk for other types of vulvar cancer.
I am infected with HIV
HIV increases your risk of several cancers, including vulvar cancer, probably because HIV suppresses the immune system and makes it harder to clear an HPV infection. HIV also interferes with the body's immune, or defense, system that can make it more difficult for the body to keep damaged cells under control.
I have or have had other genital cancers
Women with cervical cancer also have a higher risk of vulvar cancer. The likely reason for this association is the role of HPV infection in contributing to both of these cancers.