The vulva is the external part of the female genitals, including the clitoris, the vaginal lips, the opening to the vagina, and the surrounding skin and tissue. Most vulvar cancers are squamous cell carcinoma.
This type of cancer begins in squamous cells (thin, flat skin cells) and is usually found on the vaginal lips. A small number of vulvar cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make mucus and other fluids). This type of cancer is usually found on the sides of the vaginal opening.
Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over a number of years. Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).
Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that occurs in the vagina, the muscular tube that connects the uterus to the outer genitals. It most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of the vagina, which is sometimes called the birth canal. While several types of cancer can spread to the vagina from other places in the body, cancer that begins in the vagina (primary vaginal cancer) is rare.
Vaginal cancer is divided into different types based on the type of cell where the cancer began.
- Vaginal squamous cell carcinoma, which begins in the thin, flat cells (squamous cells) that line the surface of the vagina, and is the most common type
- Vaginal adenocarcinoma, which begins in the glandular cells on the surface of the vagina
- Vaginal melanoma, which develops in the pigment-producing cells (melanocytes) of the vagina
- Vaginal sarcoma, which develops in the connective tissue cells or muscles cells in the walls of the vagina
Endometrial cancer is a type of cancer that begins in the uterus, the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs. Endometrial cancer begins in the layer of cells that form the lining (endometrium) of the uterus. Other types of cancer can form in the uterus, including uterine sarcoma, but they are much less common than endometrial cancer.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, the reproductive glands on each side of the uterus that produce eggs and hormones. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, ovarian cancer is more difficult to treat and is frequently fatal. Early-stage ovarian cancer, in which the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.
The ovaries are made of three main kinds of cells. Each can develop into a different type of tumor:
- Epithelial tumors, which begin in the thin layer of tissue that covers the outside of the ovaries. About 90 percent of ovarian cancers are epithelial tumors.
- Stromal tumors, which begin in the ovarian tissue that contains hormone-producing cells. These tumors are usually diagnosed at an earlier stage than other ovarian tumors. About 7 percent of ovarian tumors are stromal.
- Germ cell tumors, which begin in the egg-producing cells. These rare ovarian cancers tend to occur in younger women.
Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix — the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma which begins in squamous cells (thin, flat skin cells) on the wall of the cervix. However, some cervical cancers are adenocarcinomas (cancers that begin in cells that make mucus and other fluids). While most cervical cancers are squamous cell carcinomas, both types of cells may be involved in cervical cancer in some instances. Very rarely, cancer occurs in other cells of the cervix.