Causes Of Vulva Cancer
Infections, Hypertension And Smoking

Vulvar Cancers

Smoking increases your risk.

Vulvar Cancer Causes


STD Infection
P53 Tumor
Hypertension And Other Conditions
Previous Gynecologic Cancers
Lifestyle Causes

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Vulva Cancer Guide
What Causes Vulva Cancer?

As vulva cancer is so rare (it accounts for less than 4 percent of all gynecologic cancers), little is known about what causes it.

STD Infection: Younger Women

Vulva cancer in younger women appears to be connected to the human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a very common sexually transmitted disease (STD). It is responsible for 95 percent of cervical cancers, about 40 percent of all vaginal cancers and significant numbers of vulvar cancers. HPV is often found in combination with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) - one of the early stages of vulva cancer. Many of the women are smokers. Scientists are still investigating this combination of causes, but the effects of the human papillomavirus combined with toxins from tobacco smoke seem to set off DNA mutations in the cells of the vulva.

P53 Tumor: Older Women

HPV is not linked to vulva cancer in older women (that is women over the age of 55). These women rarely have VIN but often have white patches of skin on the vulva called lichen sclerosus*. DNA tests rarely show a HPV infection in older women but they often show mutations in a tumor suppressor gene called p53. This gene is important because it prevents cells in the body turning cancerous. If it mutates, it is damaged and cannot do its job properly. Younger vulva cancer patients rarely have mutated p53 genes.

* Lichen sclerosus (LS) of the vulva is a slow-developing inflammation of the skin in the vulva area that causes itching and skin changes. These changes are not cancerous, although in 4 percent of women they can turn into squamous cell cancer (the most common type of vulva cancer). While LS can't be cured, it can be controlled by treatment.

Hypertension And Other Conditions

A few studies suggest that hypertension (high blood pressure) may increase the risk of vulva cancer. One study by the University of Texas (1996) of 94 women with vulvar cancer found that 40 percent of patients had hypertension. Other frequent conditions reported in the patient group included:

• Chronic metabolic diseases such as type 1 diabetes.
• Dermatologic (skin) disease such has psoriasis and lichen sclerosus.
• Smoking.

Previous Gynecologic Cancers

A history of other gynecologic cancers increases a woman's risk for vulva cancer. Nearly 1 in 3 women with the disease have also been diagnosed with cervical dysplasia or squamous cancer of the cervix within the previous 5 years.

Lifestyle Causes

Smoking and drinking more than 2 cups of coffee a day appear to be risk factors. Morbidly obese women are at greatest risk and some scientists believe this may be because their vagina is likely to contain more moisture and warmth. Lack of cleanliness of the vaginal area may be another factor but this has not been proven. Women who work in laundries or drying cleaning businesses or as maids also have increased risks.

  Related Articles on Vulvar Cancers

For more information see the following:

Symptoms of vulva cancer: Itching and skin changes.
Vulva cancer survival rates: Prognosis and outcome.
Vulva cancer prevention: Advice on preventing vulvar cancers.

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