Vulvar cancer most commonly occurs after menopause. The average age at diagnosis is 65, but studies suggest that vulvar cancer is becoming more common in younger people. Understanding your risk factors can help you detect precancerous conditions and reduce your risk of developing vulvar cancer. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned about any of the risk factors below.
HPV and vulvar cancer
Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a common sexually transmitted disease that can raise the risk of a variety of cancers, including vulvar cancer. For those with HPV, smoking further increases the risk of developing cancer. A vaccine to protect against high-risk strains of HPV is available for certain adults. Ask your doctor if the HPV vaccine is right for you.
Lichen sclerosus and vulvar cancer
Lichen sclerosus (LS) is a rare autoimmune disorder that leads to thinning and atrophy (degeneration) of the vulva. It most often develops after menopause. The most common LS symptom is itching. Occasionally, a gynecologist will notice fusing or scarring of the labia or clitoral hood. If untreated, LS can develop into dysplasia, or precancer. If precancer is found, it can be removed before it develops into cancer.
Vulvar cancer prevention
While there is no standard screening for vulvar cancer, an annual gynecologic exam can help you manage your vulvar cancer risks. If you detect a lesion on your vulva or experience any itching, bleeding or pain, talk to your gynecologist. If the lesion is found to be precancerous, it can be removed before cancer develops.
Here are other ways to prevent vulvar cancer:
- Get the HPV vaccine. This can help prevent a number of cancers.
- Be tested for HPV. HPV testing is often done during a Pap test and can detect types of HPV that place people at higher risks for cancer.
- Quit smoking. Smoking can increase the risk of a number of cancers, including vulvar cancer. This risk is higher among people with HPV.