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Vulvar cancer on the rise in Australian women: new research

A new study by Cancer Council NSW and UNSW Sydney found that rates of vulvar cancer have been increasing significantly from the late 1980s to the mid-2000s. The researchers looked at vulvar cancer incidence data across 13 high-income countries, and found that the overall increase was driven by a substantial rise of cases in women under 60 years of age.

“In Australia, we saw a 54% increase in women under 60, and a 20% increase in women of all ages. Across all 13 countries in woman of all ages, we found that there was a 38% increase in women under 60 years and a 14% increase in the overall incidence of vulvar cancer,” said Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW

About 280 Australian women are newly diagnosed with vulvar cancer each year. Up to 40% of all vulvar cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common, sexually transmitted infection. 

“Vulvar cancer is more common in women aged 60 and over, but we are now seeing increasing rates in women under 60. The findings suggest that HPV has become more prevalent in women born around or after 1950 – a trend that is associated with changing sexual behaviours in men and women, and therefore increasing levels of exposure to HPV,” Professor Canfell continued.

The numbers of cases of vulvar cancer is expected to further increase in the future because of Australia’s ageing and growing population, but HPV vaccination is likely to counteract the increase to some extent, particularly in younger women.

“We recommend that parents have their children vaccinated when their 12-13 year-olds are offered the HPV vaccine – it protects against up to 40 per cent of vulvar cancers, and of course also against a range of other HPV-related cancers, most importantly at least 70% of cervical cancers, and up to 60% of oropharyngeal cancers,” Professor Canfell added.

“We also encourage women to go see a doctor if they experience vulvar cancer symptoms, which can include itching, burning and soreness or pain in the vulva; a lump, sore, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva; bleeding not related to your period; or hard or swollen lymph nodes in the groin area,” Professor Canfell concluded.

 Source: Cancer Council NSW