While the precise cause of vulvar cancer is unknown, certain risk factors are believed to influence a woman’s chance of developing the condition. Even so, risk factors do not tell the whole story. Some women with one or more risk factors will never develop the condition, while others with no apparent risk factors will be diagnosed with vulvar cancer. Additionally, some risk factors can be controlled through healthy lifestyle choices; therefore, it is possible for a woman to take preventive measures to help ensure that her vulvar cancer risk level is as low as possible.
Some known vulvar cancer risk factors include:
- Advanced age – While vulvar cancer can affect women of any age, the average age at diagnosis is 65.
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) – In many cases, an HPV infection will resolve on its own. However, HPV exposure can sometimes lead to cellular changes that heighten a woman’s risk of developing vulvar cancer.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) – HIV weakens the body’s immune system, which in turn can make a woman more susceptible to HPV and thus elevate her vulvar cancer risk.
- Precancerous conditions of the vulva or cervix – Because a small number of women with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia will develop invasive vulvar cancer, a physician will usually recommend removing the abnormal cells and following up with regular check-ups.
- Chronic vulvar inflammation – Certain skin conditions, such as lichen sclerosus, lichen planus and Paget’s disease can cause long-term irritation of the vulvar skin, which can sometimes lead to cancer.
- Tobacco and alcohol use – Smoking and alcohol consumption increase the risk of many forms of cancer, including vulvar cancer.
The team of multispecialty experts at Moffitt Cancer Center’s gynecological clinic can help women – especially those who have multiple risk factors – to better understand their risk of developing vulvar cancer, and also discuss options for risk reduction, early detection and treatment. Because we place a premium on patient convenience, we’ve developed a comprehensive gynecological clinic where women can receive advice, treatment, support and multiple expert opinions in a single, convenient location without a referral.