While the cause or causes of vulvar cancer have not yet been determined, there are several risk factors associated with this disease.
- Age: Advancing age increases a woman’s risk of developing squamous cell carcinoma, the most common vulvar cancer. Many women diagnosed with this cancer are in their 70s or older.
- Diabetes: For reasons that are not clear, women with diabetes seem more likely to contract vulvar cancer.
- Human papilloma virus (HPV): In addition to genital warts of precancerous cells in the cervix, HPV, a sexually transmitted infection, is also linked to an increased chance of vulvar cancer.
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV): HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, increases a woman’s chances of contracting vulvar cancer by diminishing her immune response capabilities.
- Smoking: Smoking—especially if the smoker also has genital warts or HPV—increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
- Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN): VIN is a precancerous condition causing a change in the cells on the vulvar surface. It may not be visible, but it nonetheless increases a woman’s chances of developing the most common type of vulvar cancer, squamous cell carcinoma.
- Lichen sclerosis: Lichen sclerosis makes the vulvar skin thin and itchy, and slightly increases the chances of developing vulvar cancer.
- Melanoma: If a woman’s parent or sibling has had atypical moles or melanoma, she is more likely to develop melanoma of the vulva, which is a rare but aggressive kind of vulvar cancer.
- Chronic vulvar infections or irritations: Chronic irritations or infections of the vulvar skin may also increase the risk of vulvar cancer; managing these infections and improving hygiene should help decrease this risk.