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Risk Factors

Doctors do not know what causes vulvar cancer. There are, however, recognizable risk factors that include the following:

  • Women who have human papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually transmitted virus that can also increase the risk of cervical cancer. In most women, an HPV infection will go away on its own, but for some, it causes precancerous changes that can progress over an extended period of time to cancer.
  • Women who have an autoimmune condition, an HIV infection, or any other condition that causes the immune system to work less effectively. A weakened immune system increases a woman’s risk of vulvar cancer by increasing her risk of developing an HPV infection.
  • Women who have a history of precancerous vulvar conditions. Most women who develop precancerous vulvar cells do not go on to develop cancer, but a few do.
  • Women who have a skin condition involving the vulva, such as lichen sclerosus, a condition that causes the vulvar skin to itch and become thin.
  • Women who have had cervical precancer or cervical cancer.
  • Women who smoke.
  • Women who are older. The average vulvar cancer patient is diagnosed at around age 65. However, vulvar cancer can affect women of any age.
  • Women who have a history of chronic vulvar itching and/or burning.

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