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What is vulvar cancer?

Vulvar cancer can start in any part of the external female sex organs (genitals). It most commonly develops in the labia majora, labia minora and the perineum. Less often, it involves the clitoris, mons pubis or Bartholin glands.

What are the types of vulvar cancer?

The types of vulvar cancer are named after the cells they start in.

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC)The most common type, accounting for about 90% of all vulvar cancers in Australia. It starts in the thin, flat (squamous) cells covering the vulva. The two main subtypes of vulvar SCC are keratinising and warty or basaloid. Verrucous carcinoma is a rare subtype that looks like a large wart and grows slowly.
Vulvar (mucosal) melanomaAbout 2–4% of vulvar cancers. It starts in the cells that give the skin its colour (melanocytes), which are also found in the lining of the vulva. Vulvar melanomas are not related to having too much ultraviolet radiation from the sun.
SarcomaA rare type that starts in cells in muscle, fat and other tissue under the skin. It tends to grow faster than other types.
AdenocarcinomaA rare type that develops from the mucusproducing (glandular) cells in the Bartholin glands or other vulvar glands.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)Although the most common form of skin cancer, BCC is a very rare type of vulvar cancer. It starts in the tall (basal) cells in the skin’s lower layer.

How common is vulvar cancer?

Vulvar cancer is not common – each year in Australia, about 390 women are diagnosed with vulvar cancer. Although it most commonly affects women who have gone through menopause, diagnoses of vulvar cancer in women under 60 have increased in recent years. This is likely to be due to rising rates of infection with human papillomavirus. Anyone with a vulva can get vulvar cancer – women, transgender men and intersex people. For information specific to your situation, speak to your doctor.


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Understanding Vulvar and Vaginal Cancers

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jane Conroy-Wright, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Suparna Karpe, Clinical Psychologist, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Sally McCoull, Consumer; A/Prof Orla McNally, Gynaecological Oncologist and Director, Oncology/Dysplasia, The Royal Women’s Hospital, and Director, Gynaecology Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Haley McNamara, Social Worker and Project Manager, Care at End of Life Project, Queensland Health, QLD; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician – Physiotherapy, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.