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Types

Find out about the different types of vulval cancer.

Your doctor will take a sample of tissue to find out which type of vulval cancer you have. This is called a biopsy. It goes 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 might 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. 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.

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. They 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).

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.

Bartholin's gland cancer

Bartholin's glands are 2 small mucous producing glands at the opening of the vagina. This type of vulval cancer is extremely rare.

Last reviewed: 
03 Dec 2013
  • Guidelines for the Diagnosis and management of Vulval Carcinoma
    British Gynaecological Cancer Society and the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, May 2014

  • Principles and practice of oncology (10th edition)
    De Vita, V.T., Hellman, S. and Rosenberg S.A.
    Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2015

  • Textbook of uncommon cancers (4th edition) 

    D Raghavan and others (2012) 

    John Wiley and sons

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