Vulva, vagina & female urethra

Other carcinomas

Basal cell carcinoma

Last author update: 1 March 2014
Last staff update: 28 August 2023 (update in progress)

Copyright: 2002-2023,, Inc.

PubMed Search: Basal cell carcinoma [title] vulva

Priya Nagarajan, M.D., Ph.D.
Sara B. Peters, M.D., Ph.D.
Page views in 2022: 17,467
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Cite this page: Nagarajan P, Peters SB. Basal cell carcinoma. website. Accessed September 26th, 2023.
Definition / general
  • Tumors usually arise from cutaneous surface but rarely affect mucosal epithelia of vulva
  • Chronic vulvar irritation (e.g. long term use of diapers) appears to be the most important contributing factor
  • Other proposed factors: ionizing radiation, arsenic, chronic inflammation, hamartomas, immune deficiency
  • Molecular alterations:
Clinical features
  • Slow growing, painless lesion that may ulcerate
  • Itching, discomfort, bleeding, mass or swelling, ulcer and pain
  • Younger women ( < 50 years) may not have many symptoms
  • Often mimics eczema, psoriasis or other inflammatory dermatoses that do not respond to standard therapies
  • Diagnosis of vulvar BCC almost never made at clinical examination
Radiology description
Radiology images

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Low intensity area

Prognostic factors
  • Early diagnosis and complete excision are the most important prognostic factors
  • When diagnosed at an advanced stage (which happens frequently), patients are at a high risk for local recurrence and distant metastases (Int J Gynecol Pathol 1997;16:319)
  • Incomplete resection with positive margins is common with the infiltrative, micronodular and morpheaform types of BCC
  • Presence of perineural invasion can predict local recurrence
  • Metastasis is common in patients with lymphovascular space invasion
Case reports
  • Surgical resection: (Dermatol Online J 2011;17:8)
    • Partial or total vulvectomy or conservative wide excision
    • Mohs micrographic surgery
    • Inguinofemoral lymph node dissection may also be considered for deep or large tumors
  • Adjuvant or palliative radiation therapy
  • Immunomodulators such as topical imiquimod
Clinical images

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Irregularly shaped and ulcerated tumor

Well limited plaque with a pigmented border

Multiple indurated nodules

Gross description
  • Vegetating, ulcerated, pedunculated, infiltrative, nodular or pigmented lesions
Microscopic (histologic) description
  • Histologic examination is essential for diagnosis
  • Features are similar to BCC elsewhere
  • Proliferation of nests of small basal cells with high nuclear to cytoplasmic ratio, peripheral palisading and no obvious intercellular bridges
  • Epidermal connection can often be identified
  • Mitotic figures and apoptosis are frequently seen within the same nest
  • Surrounding stroma is loose and mucin rich (hyaluronic acid), leading to retraction artifacts due to mucin shrinkage during tissue processing
  • Presence of perineural infiltration and lymphovascular space involvement should be documented
  • Wide variety of histologic types have been described; the following patterns are also clinically significant for management and prognosis:
    • Nodular / ulcerative
    • Diffuse (infiltrating, micronodular and morpheaform)
    • Superficial (multifocal)
    • Pigmented
    • Fibroepithelioma of Pinkus
Microscopic (histologic) images

Contributed by Priya Nagarajan, M.D., Ph.D.

Vulvar BCC

Vulvar BCC

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Adenoid differentiation

Basophilic nodules with peripheral palisading

Nodular BCC

Dermal tumor masses

Infundibulocystic BCC

With Paget disease

Diffuse BCL2+

Positive stains
Negative stains
Electron microscopy description
  • Usually not performed
Differential diagnosis
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