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Types of vulval cancer

Women discussing vulval cancer

This page tells you about the different types of vulval cancer. You can find information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Types of vulval cancer

Your doctor will tell the type of vulval cancer you have by taking a biopsy.

Squamous cell carcinoma

This is by far the most common type of vulval cancer. About 9 out of 10 (90%) vulval cancers are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer usually forms slowly over many years. Before squamous cell vulval cancer develops there may be precancerous changes to the cells that can last for several years.

Vulval melanoma

This is much less common than the squamous cell type. It is the second most common type of vulval cancer. But only about 4 out of every 100 (4%) vulval cancers diagnosed are melanoma. Melanomas develop from the skin cells that produce pigment and give the skin its colour.

Other types of vulval cancer

Other, rarer types of vulval cancer are adenocarcinoma, basal cell carcinoma, verrucous carcinoma and cancers called sarcomas that start in tissue such as muscle or fat under the skin.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About vulval cancer section.

 

 

How you know which type you have

Your doctor will take a sample of tissue to find out which type of vulval cancer you have. This is called a biopsy. The biopsy goes off to a laboratory, where a specialist doctor looks at it closely under a microscope. The doctor is called a pathologist. The cells of the different types of vulval cancer look different. So the pathologist is usually able to tell which type you have.

 

Squamous cell carcinoma

Squamous cell is by far the most common type of vulval cancer. About 90 out of 100 vulval cancers (90%) are this type. This type of cancer usually forms slowly over many years. Before it develops, there may be precancerous changes in the cells of the vulva. These can be there for several years.

 

Vulval melanoma

This is much less common than the squamous cell type. It is the second most common type of vulval cancer. But only about 4 out of every 100 vulval cancers (4%) are melanoma. It is most often found in women older than 50. Melanomas develop from the skin cells that give the skin its colour by producing pigment.

White women are at higher risk of vulval melanoma than black women. The signs and symptoms of vulval melanoma can include itching, bleeding and pain in the vulval area.

Read more about melanoma

 

Sarcomas

Fewer than 2 out of every 100 vulval cancers (2%) are sarcomas. Sarcomas are cancers that start in tissue such as muscle or fat under the skin. These cancers tend to grow quite quickly. 

There are several different types of sarcomas that can affect the vulva. These include leiomyosarcomas, rhabdomyosarcomas, angiosarcomas, neurofibrosarcomas and epithelioid sarcomas. These are different types of sarcoma which develop from different types of body tissues. Leiomyosarcomas and rhabdomyosarcomas are both muscle tumours. Angiosarcomas begin in the cells of the blood vessels (veins, arteries or capillaries).

Read more about sarcomas. And read about the different types of sarcomas.

 

Adenocarcinoma

A small number of vulval cancers develop from glands in the vulval skin. These are called adenocarcinomas. Paget's disease of the vulva is a condition where adenocarcinoma cells spread out from these glands and across the skin of the vulva.

 

Basal cell carcinoma

A small number of vulval cancers are basal cell carcinomas. This type of cancer develops from the deepest layer of skin cells called the basal cells.

 

Verrucous carcinoma

This type of cancer is very rare. It looks like a large wart and is a slow growing type of squamous cell carcinoma.

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Updated: 3 December 2013