Although the exact cause of vulvar cancer isn′t known, certain factors appear to increase your risk of the disease, including:
- Increasing age. The risk of vulvar cancer increases with age, though it can occur at any age. The average age at diagnosis is 65.
- Being exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a sexually transmitted infection that increases the risk of several cancers, including vulvar cancer and cervical cancer. Many young, sexually active women are exposed to HPV, but for most the infection goes away on its own. For some, the infection causes cell changes and increases the risk of cancer in the future.
- Smoking. Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of vulvar cancer.
- Being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). This sexually transmitted virus weakens the immune system, which may make you more susceptible to HPV infections, thereby increasing your risk of vulvar cancer.
- Having a history of precancerous conditions of the vulva. Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia is a precancerous condition that increases the risk of vulvar cancer. Most women with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia will never develop cancer, but a small number do go on to develop invasive vulvar cancer. For this reason, your doctor may recommend treatment to remove the area of abnormal cells and periodic follow-up checks.
Having a skin condition involving the vulva. Lichen sclerosus, which causes the vulvar skin to become thin and itchy, increases the risk of vulvar cancer.