Vulvar Cancer

Clinical Description 

Vulvar cancer is a cancer that grows in a woman's external genitalia, including the vaginal lips, clitoris, opening of the vagina and its glands.

Vulvar cancer accounts for about 4% of all gynecological cancers. It is estimated that in the United States in 2010 about 3,900 new cases will be diagnosed and about 920 women will die from vulvar cancer.

Symptoms of Vulvar Cancer

  • A lump in the vulvar area
  • Abnormal bleeding not related to periods
  • Itching or burning that does not go away 
  • Pain and tenderness
  • Skin color changes or thickening

Risk Factors of Vulvar Cancer 

  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection: usually passed through sexual contact. 
  • Older age 
  • Smoking
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
  • Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN): a precancerous condition
  • Lichen sclerosus: white patches on the vulva skin, causing thin and itchy skin

How Vulvar Cancer is Diagnosed


Your doctor may exam your vulva with a special lens (colposcopy) to look for abnormalities. You doctor may remove all or part of the suspicious skin from the vulva. A pathologist will then review the specimen under a microscopy to check for cancer cells. 

Treatment Options for Vulvar Cancer at Tufts Medical Center

  • Surgery is the most common treatment for vulvar cancer. Depending on the extent of the procedure, the surgery could be: wide local excision (removing cancer and some of the normal tissue around it) or radical local excision (removing the cancer and a large amount of normal tissue around it) and removal of the lymph notes from one or both groins. 
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy uses one or a combination of drugs to kill cancer cells. For vulvar cancer, it is usually given through an IV and often at the same time as radiation therapy.

Programs + Services


Gynecologic Oncology Program

Our expert physicians at the Gynecologic Oncology program are skilled in the latest minimally invasive approaches such as robotic-assisted surgery. Contact us to learn about treatment for ovarian cancer, malignancies of the uterus, cervix and more at Tufts Medical Center in downtown Boston.
More information about programs and services