Doctors don't know what causes vulvar cancer, but have identified many possible risk factors. These risk factors can make one woman more likely to get vulvar cancer than another woman. But just because a woman has one or more risk factors does not mean she will get vulvar cancer. In fact, a woman can have all of the risk factors and still not get the disease. Or, a woman can have no known risk factors and get vulvar cancer. Unlike other cancers such as breast or ovarian cancer, there is no hereditary risk for vulvar cancer. This list will help you understand some of the risk factors for vulvar cancer.
I am a woman age 50 or older.
If so, you are more at risk for squamous cell carcinoma, the most common type of vulvar cancer. More than half of the women diagnosed with this cancer are older than 70 years old.
I am a woman infected with human papillomavirus (HPV).
This group of viruses can cause genital warts and may increase the risk for vulvar cancer.
I am a woman who smokes.
Smoking increases your risk for vulvar cancer. If you smoke and also have genital warts, your risk is even greater for vulvar cancer.
I've been diagnosed with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), also called dysplasia.
This precancerous condition causes a change in the cells on the surface of the vulva's lining. It may or may not be visible, but having it may increase your risk for the most common type of vulvar cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
I have lichen sclerosus.
This condition, which makes your vulvar skin itchy and thin, slightly increases your risk of getting vulvar cancer.
People in my family have had melanoma.
If someone in your family has had melanoma or atypical moles, you have a higher risk of getting a melanoma of the vulva. There is no known hereditary risk for other types of vulvar cancer.
I am infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
This increases your risk for vulvar cancer.
I have or have had other genital cancers.
Women with vulvar cancer also have a higher risk of cervical cancer. The likely reason for this association is the role of HPV infection in causing both of these cancers.
© 2013 Main Line Health