Vulva Cancer Prevention
How To Prevent Cancers Of The Vulvas

Vulvar Cancers

Working In Dry Cleaners

Working in a dry cleaners can increase your risk of vulva cancer.

Vulva Cancer Prevention


Can Vulva Cancer Be Prevented?
Avoid HPV Infections
Detecting Precancerous Changes
Practice Good Hygiene
Lifestyle Tips
Vulvar Self Examination

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Guide To Vulva Cancer

Can Vulva Cancer Be Prevented?

As the cause of cancer is still not clear, making recommendations for prevention is not straight forward. Although many risk factors have been identified, women who display none of those risk factors can still develop the disease. Consequently it is more a matter of applying common sense. Ideally the best thing to do is find and treat precancerous conditions such as VIN early. This will prevent cancer from developing. Additionally it is worth avoiding the risk factors described below which are directly related to cancer of the vulva.

Avoid HPV Infections

The human papilloma virus (HPV) does constitute a risk factor for cancer of the vulva (as well as cancer of the vagina and cervical cancer). A HPV infection can be passed from person to person by skin contact during sexual acts (vaginal, anal and oral sex). HPV tends to occur in women under 30 more often than older women. It usually causes no symptoms and most people do not know they have been infected. In 90 percent of cases the virus clears from the body of its own accord within 2 years. But in some cases the DNA of the virus remains in the cells of the woman's vulva, vagina and/or cervix. This can lead to precancerous changes. See vaginal cancer prevention for more details on HPV and the vaccine Gardasil.

Detecting Precancerous Changes

Any precancerous abnormality that occurs in the vulva which is not producing symptoms can be found during routine gynecologic pelvic examinations. If symptoms do occur between checkups, contact your doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes persistent itching is not thrush or a yeast infection, but an early sign of vulvar cancer. If VIN is discovered then treating it (see how with vulva cancer treatment) can prevent true cancer from starting. A regular Pap test is recommended by the American Cancer of Society for the detection of early cervix cancer, but it may also detect vulva abnormalities. According to new guidelines by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) Pap tests are recommended for women:

Under the age of 30: Every 2 years for all women as soon as they become sexually active or from the age of 21 onwards - whichever comes first.
Over the age of 30: Every 3 years if 3 or more consecutive tests are negative. This also applies to women going through menopause. See Menopause Guide.
Over the age of 65: Women at this age can discuss stopping tests with their doctor if they have had at least 3 normal Pap smear test results in the last 10 years.

Practice Good Hygiene

As lack of cleanliness around the genital area may be considered a risk factor for vulva cancer (although this has not been scientifically proven) it is a good idea to practice the following:

• Wipe from front to back after a bowel movement or urination.
• Use white unscented toilet paper.
• Wear pantyhose with a 100 percent cotton crotch or white panties.
• Sleep without panties to allow air to the vulva.
• Do not wear tight slacks or jeans.
• Use unscented or mild soap for bathing.
• Never use scented tampons, panty liners or sanitary pads.
• Avoid feminine hygiene products such as wipes, sprays and deodorizers.
• Use a mild natural detergent to wash your under clothes and rinse them well.

Lifestyle Tips

Quit Smoking
Women who smoke are prone to all types of gynecologic cancer, as well as cancer of the lungs, mouth throat and bladder.

Healthy Weight
Maintain a healthy body weight (BMI) for your height. Experts consider a BMI of 20 to 25 as ideal. Above this is considered overweight and a BMI over 30 is obese. Very obese women are particularly prone to vulva cancer although the reasons are not clear. Scientists guess it may be because they are more likely to retain moisture and warmth in the genital area which may contribute in some way to cancer development. Maintaining a healthy weight also helps to reduce the risk of heart disease in women, as well as diabetes and many other chronic conditions.

Working Environment
Women who work in laundrettes, dry cleaning stores or as maids are more prone to vulva cancer. A 1985 study found 'moderately high odds' of the disease in private household maids, and those who worked in the cleaning, garment services and laundry business. The same study also found increased risk in women who drank more than 2 cups of coffee a day.

For more advice see:
Cancer Prevention Advice
Cancer Diet Foods
Vulva Cancer Survival Rates

Vulvar Self Examination

Every woman should perform a self examination of their vulva once a month (Vulvar Self Examination, or VSE). As with a breast self examination, she will become familiar with the appearance of her body, in this case her vulva. She will then be more likely as a result to note any changes indicating symptoms of vulva cancer. To perform a VSE:

• After a bath or shower sit on the bed and support your back with pillows.
• Bend your knees and place your feet as near as possible to your bottom.
• Spread your knees apart so you can see the genital area.
• Once you have a good viewing position use a mirror to examine the vulva area. Use a flash light if you need more light.

What To Look At

1. Check the area above the vagina (mons pubis) where the pubic hair is. Look carefully for any signs of warts, rashes, ulcers or skin changes.
2. Check the clitoris which is covered by a hood of tissue. Use your finger to check for any visible signs of changes.
3. Check around the area to the right and left of the vaginal opening.
4. Examine the vaginal opening.
5. Look at the urethra opening where urine exits the body.
6. Check in and around the opening of the anus.

What To Look For

If you find any of the following report them to a doctor as soon as possible:
• A new wart, mole or growth of any kind.
• Any changes in the appearance of a mole, is it darker or lighter? More ragged in appearance?
• Any changes in skin color (pigmentation), particularly newly developed white, red or darker areas.
• Any ulcer or sore without a known cause.
• Areas of persistent itching, pain or inflammation.

Patients who have already been treated for vulvar tumors should continue performing VSEs regularly, keeping a watchful eye for signs of recurrent vulva cancer.

Read also about cancer symptoms.

  Related Articles on Vulvar Cancers

For more on the issue, see the following:

Vulva cancer staging: Stages of disease.
Causes of vulva cancer: STDs, diabetes and hypertension.
Cervix cancer prevention: Self-care advice.
Cancer guide: Advice on all types of cancer.

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