The vulva is made up of a woman’s visible sex organs, including the outer lips (labia majora), inner lips (labia minora), clitoris, the outlet for urine (urethra) and the vaginal opening (birth canal), and vulval cancer can occur in any of these.
Cancer of the vulva is rare, with around 1,100 women – most over the age of 60 – diagnosed with it each year in the UK, most commonly on the inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora and usually in the squamous skin cells.
The causes of vulval cancer are unknown. Risk factors include age, vulval skin conditions, the human papilloma virus (HPV) and smoking, but it isn’t caused by an inherited faulty gene and so other members of your family are not more likely to develop it.
Things to look out for
Symptoms can include:
- Persistent itching, burning or soreness of the vulva
- A lump, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
- Thickened, raised or discoloured patches on the skin of the vulva
- Bleeding, or a blood-stained vaginal discharge, not related to menstruation
- Burning pain when passing urine
- Tenderness or pain in the area of the vulva
- A sore or ulcerated area on the vulva
- A mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour
Conditions other than cancer can cause any of these symptoms, but it’s always important to get your doctor to check them. As with other cancers, cancer of the vulva is easier to treat and cure if it’s diagnosed at an early stage.