What is a risk factor?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. Risk factors for a certain type of cancer might include smoking, diet, family history, or many other things. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer.
Things you should know about risk factors for cancer:
Risk factors can increase a person's risk, but they don't necessarily cause the disease.
Some people with 1 or more risk factors never develop cancer. Other people with cancer have no known risk factors.
Some risk factors are very well known. But there's ongoing research about risk factors for many types of cancer.
Some risk factors such as family history or age may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change. Knowing the risk factors can help you make choices that might help lower your risk. For instance, if an unhealthy diet is a risk factor, you may choose to eat healthy foods. If excess weight is a risk factor, your healthcare provider may help you lose weight.
Who is at risk for vulvar cancer?
There are many risk factors for vulvar cancer.
Most women with this cancer are over 50 years old. More than half are over 70 years old.
Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
Some types of HPV are called high-risk types and have been linked to oral, anal, and genital cancers, including vulvar cancer. Infection with one of these high-risk types of HPV increases the risk for vulvar cancer. In fact, it’s actually linked to most vulvar cancers diagnosed in younger women.
Smoking increases your risk for a number of cancers, including vulvar cancer. If you smoke and also have a history of HPV infection, your risk is even greater.
Weakened immune system
Steroid medicines and medicines used after organ transplant suppress your immune system. So do treatments for other types of cancer and infection with HIV. Having a weakened immune system makes it harder for your body to clear an HPV infection and destroy damaged cells. This can lead to cancer.
Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN)
This precancerous condition causes changes in the cells on the surface of the vulva. Over time, if not treated, VIN can progress into vulvar cancer.
This condition slightly increases your risk for vulvar cancer. It makes the skin on your vulva itchy and very thin.
History of melanoma
If you or someone in your family has had melanoma or atypical moles, you have a higher risk of getting a melanoma of the vulva.
History of other genital cancers
Women with cervical cancer have a higher risk for vulvar cancer. The likely reason for this is the role of HPV infection and smoking in both of these cancers.
What are your risk factors?
Unlike some cancers in women, such as breast or ovarian cancer, there's no hereditary risk for vulvar cancer. Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors and what you can do about them.