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Vulvar cancer on the rise in Australian women: new research

4th October 2017 - Cancer research Community events

This October, host a Girls’ Night In to help fund research into women’s cancers

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 number 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.

The findings come as thousands of women across Australia are hosting a Girls’ Night In. Girls’ Night In is a fantastic way to not only raise funds to support continued research into women’s cancers, but also to have conversations about ways to prevent cancer. Every Girls’ Night In will help raise much needed funds to help beat all women’s cancers.

– ENDS –

Media contact:

Isabelle Dubach, isabelle.dubach@nswcc.org.au, 02 9334 1872 | 0401 524 321

Meg Cockle, meg.cockle@nswcc.org.au, 02 9334 1987 | 0422 693 238 

Notes to editor

  • Vulvar cancer in high-income countries: Increasing burden of disease” is a paper by Cancer Council NSW researchers, published in the International Journal of Cancer.
  • The aim of this study was to assess trends in the age-specific incidence of vulvar cancer in 13 high-income countries (Canada, USA, Denmark, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Sweden, Switzerland, The Netherlands, UK, Australia and Japan) over a period from 1988-1992 to 2003-2007.
  • About 280 Australian women are newly diagnosed with vulvar cancer each year.
  • Vulvar cancer accounts for 4% of all gynaecological cancers globally, with around 65% of all cases occurring in more developed regions.
  • Human papillomavirus (HPV) is responsible for 22–40% of vulvar cancers worldwide.
  • The study analysed five-yearly incidence and population at risk data from the International Agency for Research on Cancer’s Cancer Incidence in Five Continents.
  • Rates for 2003–2007 versus 1988–1992 were significantly elevated in women younger than 60 years of age, but not in women of 60+ years.
  • The increase in incidence in women <60 years of age drove a significant increase in the overall rates in women of all ages.
  • The findings are consistent with changing sexual behaviours and increasing levels of exposure to HPV in cohorts born around/after 1950, but younger cohorts offered HPV vaccination are likely to receive some protection against developing vulvar cancer in the future.
  • The findings from the current study are consistent with previous Australian research.
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