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Vulvar Cancer Risks and Prevention

Vulvar cancer most commonly occurs in postmenopausal women. The average age at diagnosis is 65, but studies suggest that vulvar cancer is becoming more common in women in their fifties.

Avoiding associated risk factors and treating pre-cancerous conditions before invasive cancer develops can reduce the risk of vulvar cancer.

Women can reduce their risk by:

  • Practicing safe sex. This includes using condoms to protect against sexually transmitted diseases.
  • Younger women can get the HPV vaccine to help prevent infection with some types of HPV.
  • Not smoking. Women who don't smoke are less likely to develop vulvar cancer as well as lung, mouth, throat, bladder, kidney and other cancers.
  • Having routine pelvic exams to help diagnose vulvar and other cancers at an earlier stage. Early diagnosis improves treatment success.

Vulvar Cancer Risk Factors

In addition to age, vulvar cancer has been associated with a history of:

  • Human papilloma virus (HPV, or genital warts) infection in women under age 50
  • Multiple sexual partners and/or sexually transmitted diseases
  • Chronic skin changes such as lichen sclerosis or squamous hyperplasia in women over age 50
  • Cervical cancer or vaginal cancer
  • Immunodeficiency
  • Chronic vaginal and vulvar irritation
  • Smoking

In addition, women with a condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) have a greater risk of developing vulvar cancer that spreads. However, most cases of VIN never lead to cancer.

If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean you will get vulvar cancer, but you should speak with a Penn Medicine physician about your risk.