Health A-Z

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You can take steps to reduce your risk of vulvar cancer. You also can take steps to identify and treat precancerous conditions before they turn into invasive cancer.

HPV infection is found in up to half of vulvar cancers. Almost all HPV infections are transmitted during sexual contact. The most common cancer-producing viruses are HPV types 16, 18, and 33. To lower your risk of HPV

  • get the HPV vaccine

  • use latex condoms (the female condom protects a broader area of the lower genital tract and vulva than the male condom)

  • limit your number of sex partners

  • avoid sex with someone who has had many partners

Early detection and treatment of precancerous conditions helps prevent invasive squamous cell vulvar cancer. Precancerous and cancerous conditions can be detected early if you have an annual pelvic exam. Have all vulvar rashes, moles, and lumps checked thoroughly.

The vulva usually is examined when you have a Pap test and pelvic exam. In general, doctors recommend that women start having Pap tests annually when they become sexually active or when they reach age 21 at the latest. After three negative Pap tests at least one year apart, your doctor may do the test every two to three years. This will depend on your age and your risk of cervical cancer.

Removing or odd-looking moles from the vulva may help prevent some vulvar melanomas. Quitting smoking and avoiding the use of tobacco can reduce your risk of many cancers, including vulvar cancer. These steps may also help prevent precancerous changes in the vulva.

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From Health A-Z, Harvard Health Publications. Copyright 2007 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. All rights reserved. Written permission is required to reproduce, in any manner, in whole or in part, the material contained herein. To make a reprint request, contact Harvard Health Publications. Used with permission of StayWell.

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