Types of vulval cancer

Cancer of the vulva is rare. Just over 1,300 women are diagnosed with it each year in the UK. It is most common in women aged 65 and over. But younger women can also be affected. About 15 in every 100 vulval cancers (15%) develop in women aged under 50.

Vulval cancer can affect any part of the external female sex organs. The most common areas for it to develop are the inner edges of the labia majora and any part of the labia minora. Vulval cancer can also sometimes affect the perineum, clitoris and Bartholin’s glands.

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. 9 in 10 vulval cancers (90%) are squamous cell carcinomas.

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

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 5 out of 100 vulval cancers (5%) are melanomas.

Basal cell carcinoma

This type of vulval cancer is rare. It develops from cells called basal cells that are found in the deepest layer of the skin of the vulva. Around 2 in 100 vulval cancers (2%) are basal cell carcinomas.

Sarcoma

This type of vulval cancer is rare. Sarcomas develop from cells in tissue such as muscle, fat or blood vessels under the skin. They tend to grow more quickly than other types of vulval cancer. Around 1 to 2 in 100 vulval cancers (1 to 2%) are sarcomas.

Adenocarcinoma

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

Bartholin's glands cancer

This type of vulval cancer is extremely rare. It develops in the Bartholin's glands at the opening of the vagina.

Back to Understanding vulval cancer

What is vulval cancer?

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

The vulva

The vulva is the area of skin between a woman’s legs.

Symptoms of vulval cancer

If you have any of the common symptoms of vulval cancer, see your doctor to get them checked out.

Why do cancers come back?

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