Some risk factors for vulvar cancer modifiable

Young women with cancer of the vulva - the external female genitalia - tend to have several modifiable risk factors for the disease such as cigarette smoking and exposure to human papillomavirus (HPV), researchers report.

“If we could get women to modify these behaviors the incidence of vulvar cancer would be decreased,” Dr. Patricia L. Judson, of the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, told Reuters Health.

“Women, and especially young women, are unaware of vulvar cancer,” she added. “They are also unaware that cigarette smoking and exposure to the human papillomavirus increases their risk of developing vulvar cancer. The HPV vaccinations will help to decrease the incidence of this cancer.”

Judson’s team studied 56 women with vulvar cancer who developed the disease at age 45 years or younger.

Almost half of patients reported the presence of symptoms for less than 6 months prior to diagnosis. The women were apt to have a history of tobacco exposure, and nearly 70% had a history of early tissue changes associated with vulvar cancer. Overall, 6.7% of patients had compromised immune systems. HPV infection was also common.

Vulvar cancer is a relatively uncommon malignancy, occurring at a rate of 2.2 per 100,000 women per year. However, over the past 28 years, the prevalence of vulvar cancer has increased. Educating women about modifiable risk factors for vulvar cancer may help reverse that trend, the researchers say.

SOURCE: American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, June 2009.

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