Cancer cells are not normal cells. Normal, healthy cells carry out specific functions which are regulated by  complex biochemical processes vital to a healthy body. Cancer cells grow in an uncontrollable manner, ignoring these biochemical processes.

​Cancer types are named according to:

  • - the organ/site where the cancer formed, called the primary site. For example, vulvar cancer starts in cells of the vulva.
  • - the specific tissue where they formed. There are 6 categories:
    • ​1.   Carcinoma originates from the epithelial tissues that line the outside area (like the skin) or the organs within the body.
    • Carcinomas account for about 85% of all cancer cases
    • Carcinomas are of two types:
    • - adenocarcinoma begins in an organ, gland or mucus membranes
    • - squamous cell carcinoma begins in the squamous cells of the epithelial tissues

    • 2.   Sarcoma originates in connective and supportive tissues including muscles, bones, cartilage and fat. For example, osteosarcoma which is bone cancer.

    • 3.   Myeloma originates in the plasma cells of bone marrow. For example, myeloma is a type of blood cancer.

    • 4.   Leukemia which are grouped within blood cancers that affect the bone marrow where blood cells are made.    

      5.   Lymphoma which affect the lymphatic system that affect lymph nodes referred to as extranodal lymphomas.


  • ​            6.   Mixed types - two or more cell types.

A treatment plan for cancer is based on:

- cancer stage. Staging describes site of the primary tumor and the cell type; tumor size; lymph node involvement; presence of any metastases (spread to other sites); tumor grade

- tumor grade. Grading describes the abnormality of the tumor cells under a microscope. It indicates how quickly a tumor is likely to grow and spread and describes the difference with surrounding normal cells (may be well  defined or poorly differentiated)

- age and general health 


​​* Click for treatment options

for vulvar cancer

​​​​​​​​genital warts due to HPV - may look like flat lesions, small cauliflower-like bumps or tiny stem-like protrusions on the vulva, near the anus, on the cervix, or in the vagina.

These HPV strains have a low risk of developing into cancer but, consult MD and get treatment!

Other signs & symptoms include:

- thickening or texture changes

​- lumps or colored bumps

​- pain and/or discomfort

5.   Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a precancerous condition. It occurs in the outer area of the vulvar skin, called epithelium.

VIN was previously called vulvar dysplasia, which means an abnormal growth of cells. It is now associated with HPV infection because 80% of women with VIN have an HPV infection present.

While the presence of VIN increases the risk of eventually developing invasive vulvar cancer, not all women with VIN will develop cancer. However, it is important to treat the condition and to get regular gynecologic check-ups.

3.   Smoking which is linked to weakening the immune system where the body is unable to fight infections, like HPV.

4.   Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) infection has been identified as a cause of about 50% of vulvar cancer reported cases over the past 10 years, especially in women under 45 years of age. 

HPV is a sexually transmitted disease with about 80 million people in the US alone who are affected. It is the most common sexually transmitted infection. 

Mostly, the body's immune system inactivates the virus.  And, having an HPV infection does not automatically mean cancer. But for some, the infection causes cell changes and increases the risk of cancer in the future. 


  • had multiple male sexual partners
  • - began having sexual intercourse at an early age
  • - had male sexual partners who had many sexual partners or began having intercourse at an early age 

HPV infection is a cause for 5 percent of all cancers worldwide -  mostly cervical, oropharyngeal (head/neck), genitoanal cancers (anal, cervical,vulvar, vaginal, penile).

In the USA (2010), HPV accounted for 45,000 cases of preventable cancers resulting in 10,000 deaths.

There are over 100 strains of HPV but only certain strains (HPV 16,18,33,39) are identified as oncogenic (cause cancer).  Infection with HPV typically causes no symptoms, but may  be detected with the PAP test. 

About 90% of vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, and typically occur at the edges of the labia majora/ minora. They are slow growing and usually develop from vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).

There are two subtypes:

 1.   occurs mostly in younger women because of human papillomavirus (HPV)

  2.  occurs mostly in older women because of  vulvar skin changes like Lichen Sclerosus.

​​Less than 5% of vulvar cancer cases are melanomas, the second most common type of vulvar cancer.

About 1 - 2% of vulvar cancer cases are sarcomas.  Included in this percentile are adenocarcinomas that develop from glands, most commonly the Bartholin's glands. 

​*To understand vulvar cancer types, read about basic cancer  types below!

The risk factors of vulvar cancer are:

​*a risk factor is anything that may increase the chance of developing a cancer/disease. It does not mean you will get vulvar cancer.

​​1.   age ... vulvar cancer appears to occur mostly in postmenopausal women. The average age at diagnosis is 65 years old. This maybe due to age-associated skin conditions like texture and color changes to the vulvar skin as in 

Lichen Sclerosus. ​

​2.   Lichen Sclerosus is a skin condition commonly occurring in the genital and anal areas. Postmenopausal women appear to be at higher risk but can affect all. Women with LC have a greater risk of developing vulvar cancer.


LC begins as small, smooth white spots that grow into bigger patches. The skin thins and crinkles - tearing easily and may become red or purple bruises that may lead to scarring. The exact cause is not known. It is not contagious. 

​             Suzanne Lee Prince Foundation  

*** For in-depth information on cancer biology, staging, grading ... go to:

American Cancer Society

​National Cancer

​​ReKindle Hope for Vulvar Cancer

Symptoms include: itching, bleeding, blisters, ​pain and/or discomfort

VIN usually occurs on

labia majora/minora & perineal areas

The most common complaint is persistent itching.