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Types of Vulvar Cancer

Most vulvar cancers begin in the squamous cells, and lead to squamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Squamous cells are the cells that make up most of the skin. Other rare types of vulvar cancer include melanoma, basal cell carcinoma, adenocarcinoma, and sarcoma of the vulva.

Squamous cell vulvar carcinoma

The most common symptoms of this type of vulvar cancer are red, pink, or white bumps with a wart-like surface. Some areas of the vulva may appear white and feel rough. About half of the women with this type of vulvar cancer complain of vulvar itching and an unusual growth on the vulva. Pain, burning, painful urination, bleeding, and discharge not linked with a normal menstrual period may occur. An ulcer that persists for more than a month is another sign. A subtype of this cancer is called verrucous carcinoma. It produces growths that have a cauliflower-like appearance. Squamous carcinomas that are small and have not spread are highly curable by surgery alone.

Melanoma of the vulva

Another type of vulvar cancer is melanoma of the vulva. A possible sign of vulvar melanoma is a dark pigmented growth or a change in a mole that has been present for years.

Another type of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma, occurs very rarely in the vulva.

Other types of vulvar cancer

Other types of vulvar cancer include:

  • Adenocarcinoma. This is a type of cancer that develops from gland cells. Most vulvar adenocarcinomas develop from the Bartholin's glands, which are at the opening of the vagina and make a fluid similar to mucus to provide lubrication during sexual activity. In very rare cases, vulvar adenocarcinoma forms in the sweat glands of the vulvar skin.

  • Paget disease of the vulva. In this condition, adenocarcinoma cells are found within the skin of the vulva. Symptoms include itching, soreness, and a red, scaly area. Paget disease is usually a precancerous condition that requires close observation or removal of the affected skin. Sometimes these cells also invade deeper tissues below the skin and need to be treated as cancer.

  • Sarcoma. These rare vulvar cancers can occur at any age. They start in connective tissue cells. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Akin, Louise, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Last Review Date: 6/30/2014
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