Types of vulval cancer

Cancer of the vulva is rare. Just over 1,170 women are diagnosed with it each year in the UK. It’s most likely to occur in women over the age of 60, but the number of younger women who are affected is increasing.

Vulval cancer can occur on any part of the external female sex organs. The inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora are the most common areas for it to develop. Vulval cancer can also sometimes affect the perineum.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This is the most common type of vulval cancer. It can take many years to develop. It usually starts with pre-cancerous changes to the outer layer of the skin cells of the vulva. Squamous cell carcinomas account for 9 out of 10 vulval cancers (90%).

Vulval melanoma

This is the second most common type of vulval cancer. Melanomas develop from cells that produce the pigment that gives skin its colour. Around 4 out of 100 vulval cancers (4%) are melanomas.

Verrucous carcinoma

Verrucous carcinoma is a rare, very slow-growing type of squamous cell carcinoma that looks like a large wart.


This is very rare. Adenocarcinoma of the vulva develops from cells that line the glands in the vulval skin.

Basal cell carcinoma

This type of vulval cancer is also very rare. It develops from cells called basal cells that are found in the deepest layer of the skin of the vulva.


Sarcomas of the vulva are extremely rare. Sarcomas develop from cells in tissue such as muscle or fat under the skin. They tend to grow more quickly than other types of vulval cancer.

Back to Understanding vulva cancer

What is cancer?

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer, each with its own name and treatment.

Why do cancers come back?

Sometimes, tiny cancer cells are left behind after cancer treatment. These can divide to form a new tumour.

The vulva and lymphatic system

The vulva is the area of skin between a woman’s legs. There are lymph nodes in the groin (the area at the top of your legs) which are close to the vulva.