Vulvar cancer

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Reducing your risk for vulvar cancer

You may lower your risk of developing vulvar cancer by doing the following.

Get vaccinated against human papillomavirus (HPV)

HPV is a risk factor for developing vulvar cancer. It is also a risk factor for developing precancerous conditions. These include vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN), which is a precancerous condition of the vulva, and cervical dysplasia, which is a precancerous condition of the cervix.

The 3 HPV vaccines available in Canada are Gardasil, Cervarix and Gardasil 9. These vaccines help protect against infection with HPV-16 and HPV-18, the 2 types of HPV most commonly associated with cancer. Gardasil 9 also protects against 5 other types of HPV that can cause cancer.

Only Gardasil and Gardasil 9 are approved to help prevent precancerous conditions of the vulva and vulvar cancer caused by an HPV infection. Cervarix may also protect against vulvar cancer, but it isn’t currently approved for this use.

Get vaccinated or have your children vaccinated through school-based programs where available. If you are not eligible for a free vaccination, talk to your doctor about which vaccine is right for you and when you should have it.

Reduce your exposure to HPV

The only sure way to prevent HPV infection is to completely avoid any genital contact with another person. If you are sexually active, you can lower your risk of exposure to HPV by:

  • having as few sexual partners as possible
  • being in a monogamous relationship with someone who hasn’t had a lot of sexual partners
  • using a condom

Using a condom can reduce the risk of HPV infection if the condom is put on before skin-to-skin sexual contact. However, areas not covered by a condom still allow some skin-to-skin contact during sexual activity. So using condoms will reduce, but not eliminate, the risk of HPV infection.

Get regular pelvic exams and Pap tests

When vulvar cancer is found and treated early, the chances of successful treatment are better. All women should have regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. A Pap test collects cells from the cervix, but it may also find precancerous or cancerous cells from the vulva.

If you follow the screening guidelines for cervical cancer, cancer can be found before you notice symptoms. Follow the guidelines even when you feel well and healthy. To date, there is no screening test recommended for vulvar cancer.

Be a non-smoker

Smoking may increase the risk of vulvar cancer. If you smoke, get help to quit.

More information about preventing cancer

Learn what you can do to prevent cancer.