Browser does not support script.
Skip to main content
Find out how we produce our information|
The exact causes of vulval cancer are unknown. But, like other cancers, it isn’t infectious and can’t be passed on to other people. Vulval cancer isn’t caused by an inherited faulty gene and so other members of your family are not likely to develop it.
There are a number of risk factors known to increase the chances of vulval cancer developing:
The risk of developing vulval cancer increases with age. About 8 out of 10 women (80%) who are diagnosed with vulval cancer are over the age of 60. Vulval cancer in older women is usually associated with a skin condition called lichen sclerosus|. But vulval cancer is becoming increasingly common among younger women, where it’s often linked to human papilloma virus infection (see below).
Women who have non-cancerous skin conditions of the vulva, such as vulval lichen sclerosus and vulval lichen planus|, have a higher risk of developing cancer of the vulva. About 3-5 out of every 100 women (3-5%) who have lichen sclerosus go on to develop vulval cancer. It’s thought that over a long period of time the inflammation caused by these skin conditions increases the risk of cancer developing in the skin of the vulva.
Infection with this virus is a risk factor for vulval cancer. HPV| is a very common infection and is usually passed between people during sex. There are many different types of HPV, and each is identified by a number. Some types (particularly 16, 18 and 31) are linked to vulval cancer and pre-cancerous changes called VIN (see below).
Most women with HPV infection don’t have any problems, as their immune system quickly gets rid of the virus. But in a few women, the virus remains and may go on to cause abnormal changes in the skin of the vulva and sometimes vulval cancer.
This is a precancerous condition that can occur in the skin of the vulva. In some women VIN| develops into vulval cancer. There are two types of VIN:
This is the type linked to HPV infection and mainly affects younger women below the age of 50.
This type of VIN is linked to lichen sclerosus and more commonly affects women over 50 years of age.
Smoking increases the risk of developing both VIN and vulval cancer. The longer a woman smokes for and the more cigarettes she smokes, the greater the risk. Smoking makes the immune system less effective, and less able to clear the HPV virus. This may be one reason why it increases the risk of vulval cancer.
This is a condition that causes abnormal changes in the cells that cover the skin of the vulva. It’s rare and usually only affects women who’ve been through the menopause. In some women with Paget’s disease of the vulva (less than 15%), an invasive cancer of the vulva is found underneath the area affected by Paget’s.
Content last reviewed: 1 December 2011
Next planned review: 2013
For answers, support or just a chat, call the Macmillan Support Line free (Monday to Friday, 9am-8pm)
If you have any questions about cancer, need support or just want someone to talk to, ask Macmillan.
If you have any questions about Macmillan we would love to hear from you| .
You can also follow us| on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr or YouTube.
© Macmillan Cancer Support 2013
what are these?|