Vulvar cancer

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Cancerous tumours of the vulva

A cancerous tumour of the vulva can grow into and destroy nearby tissue. It can also spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancerous tumours are also called malignant tumours. There are several types of vulvar cancer.

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) is the most common malignant tumour of the vulva. SCC begins in the epithelial cells of the skin on the vulva. SCC is most often found on the labia majora and minora. It can develop from a precancerous condition called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).

There are different types of SCC of the vulva:

  • The keratinizing type is the most common and it occurs most often in women after menopause.
  • The basaloid and warty types are found more often in younger women with human papillomavirus (HPV) infections.
  • The verrucous carcinoma is uncommon, grows slowly and looks like a large wart.

Vulvar melanoma

Melanoma of the vulva is a type of skin cancer that begins in the cells of the skin that produce pigment (melanocytes). Melanoma most often develops on areas of the skin that are exposed to the sun but may develop in other areas such as the vulva. It may look like a dark area of skin or may start in an existing mole. Vulvar melanoma is most often found on the labia minor or clitoris.


Adenocarcinoma most often starts in the Bartholin glands or sweat glands of the vulva. The tumour is usually found on the sides of the vaginal opening.

Paget disease of the vulva

Paget disease of the vulva often appears as a red, weeping rash on the top layer of vulvar skin. Sometimes it is a symptom of an underlying adenocarcinoma in a Bartholin gland, a sweat gland or nearby tissues of the vagina, cervix, urethra, bladder or rectum.


Sarcomas that may develop in the vulva include leiomyosarcoma, malignant fibrous histiocytoma, Kaposi sarcoma or angiosarcoma.

epithelial cell

A specialized cell that makes up the epithelium (a layer of cells that makes up the surface of the skin, and lines cavities, glands and passages in the body). Some epithelial cells make mucus, hormones or other secretions.

The 4 types of epithelial cells are squamous cells, columnar cells, cuboidal cells and transitional cells.