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What to Know About Precancerous Vulvar Changes

Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is a precancerous change in your vulva. It is not cancer, but if it's not treated it can turn into cancer in some women. Another name for VIN is dysplasia. These cell changes become more serious as they progress toward cancer, although this process may take many years. The terms used to describe dysplasia are mild dysplasia, moderate dysplasia, and severe dysplasia. The last stage before invasive cancer is known as carcinoma in situ.

Your doctor can detect VIN from examination of your vulva and the help of a biopsy. It can be treated, but it can also return. The risk of recurrence is much higher if you use tobacco products. Therefore, smoking cessation is an important strategy to prevent recurrence of VIN in addition to the many other health benefits. If you have been diagnosed and treated for VIN, pay close attention to your body. Do regular self-exams of your vulva as your doctor directs you. Also, see your doctor when you are scheduled for follow-up visits, as well as if you have pain or burning in the vulvar area or notice any skin changes.

In most cases, women with VIN do not develop vulvar cancer. You should follow up regularly and protect yourself by getting any tests and treatments that your doctor suggests. When doctors find and treat precancerous changes early, they can often prevent vulvar cancer from developing.

These are signs of VIN:

  • Mild to severe itching or burning on the vulva

  • Changes in skin color on the vulva. It may be white, pink to red, gray, or dark brown.

  • Thickness around skin on the vulvar area. The skin may be smooth or irregular, or appear wart-like.