Virginia Commonwealth University

VCU Massey Cancer Center

Risk factors and prevention

What are risk factors for vulvar cancer?

The following have been suggested as risk factors for vulvar cancer:

  • Age – of the women who develop vulvar cancer, three-fourths are over age 50 and two-thirds are over age 70.
  • Chronic vulvar inflammation. 
  • Infection with the human papillomavirus.
  • Human immunodeficiency virus infection. 
  • Lichen sclerosis – can cause the vulval skin to become very itchy and may slightly increase the possibility of vulvar cancer. 
  • Melanoma or atypical moles on nonvulvar skin – a family history of melanoma and dysplastic nevi anywhere on the body may increase the risk of vulvar cancer. 
  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia – there is an increased risk for vulvar cancer in women with VIN, although most cases do not progress to cancer. 
  • Other genital cancers. 
  • Smoking.

How can vulvar cancer be prevented?

The cause of vulvar cancer is not known at this time; however, certain risk factors are suspected as contributors to the development of the disease. Suggestions for prevention include:

  • Avoid known risk factors when possible.
  • Delay onset of sexual activity. 
  • Use condoms. Research shows that condoms may protect against HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases that are transmitted through body fluids. However, condoms will not protect against infection with HPV since this infection is transmitted by skin-to-skin contact. 
  • Do not smoke. 
  • Have regular physical checkups. 
  • Have routine Pap tests and pelvic examinations. 
  • Routinely check entire body for irregular growth of moles.