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Risk factors

Although the cause of cancer of the vulva remains unknown, it has been linked to certain risk factors.

A risk factor is anything that increases your chances of getting a disease. Having a risk factor does not mean that you will get cancer, and not having risk factors does not mean that you won’t get cancer. If you think you may be at risk of vulval cancer, you should discuss this with your doctor.

Cancer of the vulva, like other cancers, is not infectious and cannot be passed on to other people. An inherited faulty gene does not cause it and so other members of your family are not likely to be at risk of developing it.

The known risk factors for vulval cancer are:

  • precancerous conditions
  • skin conditions
  • smoking.

Precancerous conditions

A condition called VIN (vulval intraepithelial neoplasia) occurs in the skin of the vulva and can develop into vulval cancer if left untreated.

For more information about VIN, see Vulval cell changes below.

Skin conditions

Women who have certain non-cancerous skin conditions for a long time have an increased risk of developing vulval cancer. These conditions, called vulval lichen sclerosus and vulval lichen planus, affect the skin in the vulval area. The skin can become inflamed and itchy, and split and crack, causing pain. The vulva may become distorted, and change in shape and size.

Almost two-thirds of vulval cancers occur in women who also have lichen sclerosus, but only a small percentage (1 to 2 per cent) of women with lichen sclerosus will go on to develop vulval cancer.


Cigarette smoking increases the risk of developing both VIN and vulval cancer. This may be because smoking can make the immune system work less effectively.