This Surprising Type Of Cancer Is On The Rise For Young Women

You've probably never heard of it.

cancer
Image: Imani Clovis

Here at Sporteluxe, we like to write about fun stuff like customisable beauty products and eating ice cream for breakfast as much as the next lifestyle bloggers. But we take our role as a platform for raising awareness of some of the mental and physical health issues affecting women far more seriously. Today, we’re tackling a topic that definitely isn’t fun or fluffy but is incredibly important — cancer.


When you think of the top cancers affecting women, breast, cervical and ovarian probably come to mind. But a new Cancer Council NSW study has found that another type of cancer you’ve probably never heard of is on the rise, especially for women under the age of 60 — vulvar cancer. If you need a sex ed refresher, the vulvar is the outer parts of the female genitals.

The new study in collaboration with UNSW Sydney found that vulvar cancer rates have been steadily increasing 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.

-Professor Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW

Each year, around 280 Australian women are diagnosed with vulvar cancer. Up to 40% of all vulvar cancer cases are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), an extremely 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 Karen Canfell, Director of Research at Cancer Council NSW.

So, what are the signs of vulvar cancer? Professor Canfell says to visit your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms: 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. Of course, it’s also important to have regular female health checkups (including the five yearly human papillomavirus (HPV) test in Australia) too. Canfell also recommends that parents have their children vaccinated when their 12-13 year-olds are offered the HPV vaccine, as it protects against up to 40% of vulvar cancers

Want to support cancer research? Throughout October and November, Cancer Council is encouraging women to host or attend a Girls’ Night In and donate the money they would have spent on a night out to continued research, support and information for those affected by breast and gynaecological cancers. You can get involved here.

All information via Cancer Council NSW.