Vulvar Cancer: Stages

March 21, 2017

Vulvar Cancer: Stages

What does the stage of cancer mean?

The stage of a cancer is how much and how far the cancer has spread in your body. Your healthcare provider uses exams and tests to find out the size of the cancer and where it is. He or she can also see if the cancer has grown into nearby areas, and if it has spread to other parts of your body. The stage of a cancer is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

What are the stages of vulvar cancer?

Stage 0 or carcinoma in situ is a very early change that is a precancer. It is not a true cancer. Theabnormal cells are found only in the surface of the skinof the vulva.

Invasive vulvar cancer is staged as follows. It’s based on findings and pathology from surgery: 

  • Stage I.Cancer is found only in the vulva or the space between the opening of the rectum and the vagina (perineum). The lymph glands do not contain cancer. It has not spread to other organs or tissues.

    • Stage IA.The tumor is less than or equal to 3/4 inch (2 centimeters) in diameter. It has grown no more than 1 millimeter deep (less than 1/25 inch) into the tissue of the vulva.

    • Stage IB.Thetumor is greater than 2 centimeters in diameter or has spread more than 1 millimeter (mm) beneath the surface of the skin.

  • Stage II.The tumor is any size. It has spread outside the vulva to nearby sites. These can include the lower urethra, lower vagina, or anus. But it has not spread to lymph nodes.

  • Stage III.The tumor is any size. It has spread to one or more nearby (inguinal or femoral) lymph nodes. It may or may not have spread to the lower urethra, lower vagina, or anus.

    • Stage IIIA.The cancer has spread either to a single lymph node that is at least 5 mm or to one or two lymph nodesthat are smaller than 5 mm.

    • Stage IIIB.The cancer has spread to two or more lymph node that are at least 5 mm, or to three or more lymph nodes that are smaller than 5 mm.

    • Stage IIIC.The cancer has spread to lymph nodes in the groin. Plus, at least one of the nodes has cancer growing through its outer layer (extracapsular spread).

  • Stage IV.The cancer has spread to the upper urethra, upper vagina, or other parts of the body.

    • Stage IVA. Cancer is found in the upper part of the urethra, upper vagina, bladder, rectum, and pelvic bone. Or it has spread to nearby lymph nodes which are stuck to deeper tissues or have ulcerated. This leads to open sores. 

    • Stage IVB.This is the most advanced stage of vulvar cancer. The cancer has spread to organs, tissues, or lymph nodes further away in your body.

Talking with your healthcare provider

The staging of vulvar cancer can be very confusing. Women should seek care from a gynecologic oncologist. This is a doctor with advanced training in the diagnosis and management of vulvar cancer.

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Make sure to ask any questions or talk about your concerns.


March 21, 2017

Reviewed By:  

Goodman, Howard, MD,Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS