Cancer can strike anywhere in the body, but some locations are more popular for disease development than others. Vulvar cancer is one of the more rare forms of cancer that occur and it forms around the outer part of a woman’s genitals. The vulvar area includes the vestibule, or the opening of the vagina, the outer and inner lips, and the clitoris. Around the vagina are two sets of skin folds and most of the cancers that form does so in the skin cells.
Statistics About Vulvar Cancer
1. In the United States, women have a 1 in 333 chance of developing some form of vulvar cancer during their lifetime.
2. Vulvar cancer accounts for just 4% of the total cancers that develop in the reproductive organs of women.
3. The percentage of cancers in the United States that are vulvar cancer at any given time: 0.6%.
4. About 1,000 women die of vulvar cancer in the US every year and about 5,000 women in total will be diagnosed.
5. The number of deaths involving vulvar cancer is 0.5 per 100,000 women per year.
6. The 5 year survival rate for all women diagnosed with vulvar cancer: 70.5%.
7. The 5-year survival for localized vulvar cancer is 85.7%.
8. Only 58.9% of the cases of vulvar cancer are diagnosed at the local stage.
9. If the vulvar cancer has spread to other parts of the body, then the 5 year survival rate is just 15%.
10. Only 5% of the cases of vulvar cancer that are diagnosed are of the distant variety where the cancer has metastasized.
11. The number of new cancers that are diagnosed as vulvar cancer each year: 0.3%.
12. Vulvar cancer is more common among women with a medical history of vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia in addition to the presence of HPV.
13. The average age when a woman will be diagnosed with vulvar cancer: 68.
14. Women of Asian or Pacific Islander are the least likely to develop this cancer as their risks are nearly 3x lower than that of Caucasian women.
15. White women have the highest risk of a vulvar cancer diagnosis.
16. There is a direct correlation in the death rate from this cancer to the age of the woman when the diagnosis occurs.
17. The average age that a woman dies of vulvar cancer: 68.
18. The average lifespan of a woman who is diagnosed with vulvar cancer is 10 years after diagnosis.
19. Less than 1% of women below the age of 35 will die from the disease, which accounts for about 10 total deaths per year.
20. Rates for new vulvar cancer cases have been rising on average 0.5% each year over the last 10 years.
21. Death rates rose, on average, 0.7% annually between 2002-2011.
Types of Vulvar Cancer
There are several different types of skin cancers that become part of a vulvar cancer diagnosis. The most common type is called “keratinizing.” This usually develops in women who are older and there is no direct connection to the human papilloma virus [HPV] when this type of cancer is present. Cancer that looks like warts isn’t as common, but is the most common type of cancer found in young women and there is a direct link to HPV.
A third form of skin cancer, called verrucous carcinoma, is the most dangerous, but it also tends to have the best overall outlook. It grows very slowly and looks like a very large wart. A biopsy needs to be completed in order to determine if the wart is this type of cancer or if it is benign.
A vulvar cancer diagnosis can also come from the development of sarcomas, melanomas, or basal cell carcinomas as well. The gland cells that are around the vagina can also develop a cancer, which is called adenocarcinoma. By knowing the key statistics for vulvar cancer, however, it is entirely possible to seek early treatment or prevent the development of the cancer in the first place.
Risk Factors and Treatments
The risk factors for vulvar cancer are similar to those of many other cancers. Age is a major factor, as is prolonged exposure to sunlight. Smoking may play a role, but HPV and VIN are more likely to cause vulvar cancer.
The good news is that there are vaccines available for women that may help to prevent the development of vulvar cancer. There are currently two HPV vaccines that have been approved by the FDA to be used in the United States. Gardasil and Cervarix can help to avoid an HPV infection in women who are younger than 30, which is when an infection is more likely to occur. HPV is passed due to skin-to-skin contact with an infected area of the body. Sex can cause HPV to be transferred, but it can even be spread by the hands to the genitals.
HPV can also spread from one body part to others. An infection in the cervix, for example, may spread out to the vulva. The only real way outside of the vaccine to prevent the transmission of HPV is to not let anyone have access to your genital area. A recent study also found that HPV can linger on the surface of an item for some time, so sharing a sex toy could spread the disease. It sounds scary, but most women will be clear of the infection thanks to their immune system. It is when an infection becomes chronic that vulvar cancer becomes a real threat.
As with any cancer, the goal is to have early detection of vulvar cancer. By knowing the statistics of this cancer and what its signs and symptoms are, it becomes possible to detect the cancer early and get successful treatments. Getting regular exams is a critical component of early detection as well. Instead of waiting for symptoms to develop, regular check-ups can note discrepancies or slight symptoms that may not have been noticed.
Vulvar cancer might be rare, especially in young women, but knowledge is also power. Use this knowledge to seek treatment for this cancer if need be.