Extensive pigmented vulvar basal-cell carcinoma presenting as pruritus in an elderly womanDept. of Dermatology, Ed. Herriot Hospital (Pav. R), Lyon, France. firstname.lastname@example.org
Jean Kanitakis MD, Elise Arbona-Vidal MD, Michel Faure MD
Dermatology Online Journal 17 (1): 8
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common human cancer, is seldom seen in the genital area. We present a case of an extensive pigmented BCC that developed on the mucosal surface of the vulva of an elderly woman and briefly review the relevant literature on vulvar BCC.
An 87-year-old woman sought advice for vulvar pruritus that had been present for several weeks prior to consultation. Clinical examination disclosed a well-demarcated erythematous, slightly infiltrated plaque with a partially hyperpigmented border circumferentially surrounding the vaginal introitus (Figure 1). The patient’s medical history was significant for adult-onset diabetes mellitus and two basal cell carcinomas of the face that had been excised one year before. Clinical diagnoses of the vulvar lesion included pigmented Bowen disease, Paget disease, and mucous membrane lichen planus.
Histopathologic examination of three biopsies taken from different areas of the lesion showed a similar picture: under a thinned epithelium, a dermal tumor was found, made up of confluent nodules consisting of basophilic cells, assuming a palisaded arrangement at their periphery (Figure 2). Melanin deposits were seen within tumor nodules and within dermal melanophages surrounding the tumor. These features were diagnostic of pigmented nodular BCC. Search for HPV by immunohistochemistry on tissue sections and by PCR after DNA extraction, using a combination of probes detecting both cutaneous and mucosal HPV types, proved negative. A superficial vulvectomy was proposed to the patient, but she was lost to follow up.
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) is the most common human cancer. It develops predominantly on the head and neck (75%) and more rarely on the trunk and limbs. BCC very rarely develops on the genital area (1% of all cases), including the vulva. About 300 cases of vulvar BCC have been published in the literature to date [1-45].
Basal cell carcinoma accounts for 1-8 percent of all vulvar carcinomas [1, 3, 5, 10, 11, 14, 16, 31, 33, 35, 38]. It affects elderly women (mean age 68 years, range 34-92). The great majority of patients are Caucasians, as was our patient; a few cases have been reported in black women [5, 10, 15, 30] and in Asian women from Thailand , Japan  and China . The mean delay of diagnosis (5-6 years) is long and may reach 20 years  because of the location of the tumor, which prevents patients from seeking consultation and the frequent misdiagnosis. Vulvar BCC often causes symptoms such as discomfort, pain, bleeding, and pruritus that may be the presenting sign . The clinical aspects vary. Basal cell carcinomas may present as vegetating, ulcerated, pedunculated, infiltrated, nodular, pigmented, or depigmented lesions. They develop on the cutaneous (and less often the inner surface) of labia majora and, more rarely as in our patient, on the labia minora and the clitoris [2, 8]. The tumors may be bilateral , as in our patient, or multifocal.
The diagnosis of vulvar BCC is seldom made clinically. Basal cell carcinomas are usually misdiagnosed as Bowen disease, Paget disease, squamous cell carcinoma, leukoplakia, lichen planus, lichen sclerosus, melanocytic nevus, or melanoma. The correct diagnosis rests on the histological examination. Histopathologically, vulvar BCCs do not show noticeable differences from their cutaneous counterparts . They may occur as mixed tumors associated with squamous cell carcinoma [3, 16, 26, 39, 39], Paget disease , melanoma [38, 39], or in association with lichen sclerosus . BCCs should be differentiated from adenoid cystic (basal cell) carcinomas of the vestibular glands that may behave more aggressively .
The pathogenesis of vulvar BCC is unknown. Risk factors include chronic exposure to arsenic , basal cell nevus syndrome , local trauma , chronic irritation, and X-ray treatment [26, 40]. The direct role of UV radiation is obviously unlikely, even though several patients with vulvar BCCs have similar tumors on sun-exposed sites, as in our patient. Conversely, the fact that the genital region is sun-protected, may help account for the rarity of BCCs developing in this area. On the other hand HPV types that seem to play a co-carcinogenic role in non-melanoma skin cancers , have only exceptionally been detected in genital BCCs [26, 47-50]. In our patient, a search for HPV proved negative, in accordance with most previous studies.
The treatment of vulvar BCC is surgical, by partial or total vulvectomy, although conservative excision with histologic examination of the margins may be adequate. Mohs micrographic surgery has been also used [28, 37, 40]. If surgery is contraindicated or impossible, X-ray treatment is an alternative option. Local immunomodulators (namely imiquimod), alone or combined with surgery  could also be effective for superficial tumors, although tolerance of this treatment in this body area could understandably be poor.
The growth of vulvar BCCs is usually slow. As a rule, the prognosis is favorable provided the lesions are recognized early and completely excised. However, since this is not always the case, vulvar BCCs may behave aggressively, with local recurrences and metastases to the lymph-nodes [16, 19, 29], the skin , and the skeleton  leading to a fatal outcome [16, 26, 30]. Therefore, early diagnosis is important in order to spare patients unfavorable results.
In conclusion, any chronic, persistent vulvar lesion should be subjected to histological examination. Even though other mucocutaneous diseases are more common on the vulva (e.g., contact dermatitis, psoriasis inversa, fungal infections, Bowen disease, bowenoid papulosis, and Paget disease), the diagnosis of BCC should be considered for chronic vulvar growths, particularly in elderly women.
References1. Ambrosini A, Becagli L, Resta P, Nardelli G, De Bastiani BM, D’Antona N. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol. 1980 May;1(2):126-8. [PubMed]
2. Asuman C, Ozlem A, Burçak T, Onder P. An unusual location of basal cell carcinoma: the clitoris and the vulva. Indian J Dermatol. 2008;53(4):192-4. [PubMed]
3. Benedet JL, Miller DM, Ehlen TG, Bertrand MA. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva: clinical features and treatment results in 28 patients. Obstet Gynecol. 1997;90(5):765-8. [PubMed]
4. Bordel Gómez MT, Sánchez Estella J, Cardeñoso Alvarez E, Santos Durán JC, Román Curto C. [Basocellular cancer of the vulva: a rare location for one of the most frequent types of skin cancer] Actas Dermosifiliogr. 2006;97(6):415-6. [PubMed]
5. Breen JL, Neubecker RD, Greenwald E, Gregori CA. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Obstet Gynecol. 1975;46(2):122-9. [PubMed]
6. Bukhari IA, Khalid AJ. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma misdiagnosed for 4 years. Saudi Med J. 2006 Jan;27(1):93-4. [PubMed]
7. Cabrera HN, Cuda G, Lopez M, Costa JA. Basal cell epithelioma of the vulva in chronic regional arsenic poisonning. Med Cutan Ibero Lat Am. 1984;12(2):81-5. [PubMed]
8. Celik H, Gurates B, Yavuz A, Dogan Z, Cobanoglu B, Saral Y. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma with clitoral involvement. Acta Derm Venereol. 2009;89(2):191-2. [PubMed]
9. Charpentier-Arnavon P, Prade M, Michel G. Epithélioma baso-cellulaire de la vulve. A propos de neuf cas. Arch Anat Cytol Pathol. 1980;28(3):149-54. [PubMed]
10. Copas PR, Spann CO, Majmudar B, Horowitz IR. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. A report of four cases. J Reprod Med. 1996 Apr;41(4):283-6. [PubMed]
11. Cruz-Jimenez FPR, Abell MR. Cutaneous basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Cancer. 1975;36(5):1860-8. [PubMed]
12. De Ambrosis K, Nicklin J, Yong-Gee S. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva: a report of four cases. Australas J Dermatol. 2008;49(4):213-5 [PubMed]
13. de Giorgi V, Salvini C, Massi D, Raspollini MR, Carli P. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma: retrospective study and review of literature. Gynecol Oncol. 2005;97(1):192-4. [PubMed]
14. Deppisch LM. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Mt Sinai J Med. 1978;45(3):406-10. [PubMed]
15. Dudzinski MR, Askin FB, Fowler WC. Giant basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Obstet Gynecol. 1984;63(3 Suppl):57S-60S. [PubMed]
16. Feakins RM, Lowe DG. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva: a clinicopathologic study of 45 cases. Int J Gynecol Pathol. 1997;16(4):319-24. [PubMed]
17. Gibson GE, Ahmed I. Perianal and genital basal cell carcinoma: A clinicopathologic review of 51 cases. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001;45(1):68-71. [PubMed]
18. Giuliani M, Di Stefano L, Zoccali G, Angelone E, Leocata P, Mascaretti G. Gorlin syndrome associated with basal cell carcinoma of the vulva: A case report. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol. 2006;27(5):519-22. [PubMed]
19. Gleeson NC, Ruffolo EH, Hoffman MS, Cavanagh D. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva with groin node metastasis. Gynecol Oncol. 1994;53(3):366-8. [PubMed]
20. Hoffman MS, Roberts WS, Ruffolo EH. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva with inguinal lymph node metastases. Gynecol Oncol. 1988;29(1):113-9. [PubMed]
21. Ishizawa T, Mitsuhashi Y, Sugiki H, Hashimoto H, Kondo S. Basal cell carcinoma within vulvar Paget’s disease. Dermatology. 1998;197(4):388-90. [PubMed]
22. Jimenez HT, Fenoglio CM, Richart RM. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma with metastasis. A case report. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1975 Jan 15;121(2):285-6. [PubMed]
23. Kimball KJ, Straughn JM, Conner MG, Kirby TO. Recurrent basosquamous cell carcinoma of the vulva. Gynecol Oncol. 2006 Aug;102(2):400-2. [PubMed]
24. Lally A, Charnock F, Clelland C, Turner R, Wojnarowska F. Multiple vulval basal cell carcinomas. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2007;21(3):407-8. [PubMed]
25. Lui PC, Fan YS, Lau PP, Chau TK, Tang VW, Tse GM, Yu AM, Vong JS, Tan PH, Trendell-Smith NJ. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma in China: a 13-year review. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2009;200(5):514.e1-5. [PubMed]
26. Mateus C, Fortier-Beaulieu M, Lhomme C, Rochard F, Castaigne D, Duvillard P, Avril MF. Carcinome basocellulaire de la vulve : 21 cas. Ann Dermatol Venereol. 2001;128(1):11-5. [PubMed]
27. Thomas RH, McGibbon DH, Munro DD. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva in association with vulval lichen sclerosus et atrophicus. J R Soc Med 1985;78:16S-18S. J R Soc Med. 1985;78 Suppl 11:16-8. [PubMed]
28. Miller ES, Fairley JA, Neuburg M. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma. Dermatol Surg. 1997;23(3):207-9. [PubMed]
29. Mizushima J, Ohara K. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva with lymph node and skin metastasis. Report of a case and review of 20 japanese cases. J Dermatol. 1995;22(1):36-42. [PubMed]
30. Mulayim N, Foster Silver D, Tolgay Ocal I, Babalola E. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma: two unusual presentations and review of the literature. Gynecol Oncol. 2002;85(3):532-7. [PubMed]
31. Palladino VS, Duffy JL, Bures GJ. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Cancer. 1969;24(3):460-70. [PubMed]
32. Pengsaa P, Pothinam S, Udomthavornsuk B. Vulvar carcinoma at Srinagarind Hospital, Khon Kaen, Thailand. Eur J Gynaecol Oncol 1993;14:56-62. [PubMed]
33. Perrone T, Twiggs LB, Adcock LL, Dehner LP. Vulvar basal cell carcinoma: an infrequently metastasizing neoplasm. Int J Gynecol Pathol 1987;6:152-65. [PubMed]
34. Pisani C, Poggiali S, De Padova L, Andreassi A, Bilenchi R. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2006;20(4):446-8. [PubMed]
35. Piura B, Rabinovich A, Dgani R. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. J Surg Oncol. 1999;70(3):172-6. [PubMed]
36. Regauer S, Nogales FF. Vulvar trichogenic tumors: a comparative study with vulvar basal cell carcinoma. Am J Surg Pathol. 2005;29(4):479-84. [PubMed]
37. Saini R, Sarnoff DS. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva presenting as unilateral pruritus. J Drugs Dermatol. 2008;7(3):288-90. [PubMed]
38. Schueller EF. Basal cell cancer of the vulva. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 1965;93:199-208. [PubMed]
39. Simonsen E, Johnsson JE, Tropé C, Alm P. Basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scand. 1985;64(3):231-4. [PubMed]
40. Stiller M, Klein W, Dorman R, Albom M. Bilateral vulvar basal cell carcinomata. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1993;28(5 Pt 2):836-8. [PubMed]
41. Suda T, Kakinuma H. Erosive velvety lesion on the vulva - vulvar basal cell carcinoma. Arch Dermatol. 2006;142(3):385-90. [PubMed]
42. Sworn MJ, Hammond GT, Buchanan R. Metastatic basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Case report. Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1979;86(4):332-4. [PubMed]
43. Takahashi H. Non-ulcerative basal cell carcinoma arising on the genitalia. J Dermatol. 2000;27(12):798-801. [PubMed]
44. Trelford JD, Deer DA, Ordorica E, Franti CE, Trelford-Sauder M. Ten-year prospective study in a management change of vulvar carcinoma. Am J Obstet Gynecol 1984;150(3):288-96. [PubMed]
45. Winkelmann SE, Llorens AS. Metastatic basal cell carcinoma of the vulva. Gynecol Oncol. 1990;38(1):138-40. [PubMed]
46. Feltkamp MC, de Koning MN, Bavinck JN, Ter Schegget J. Betapapillomaviruses: innocent bystanders or causes of skin cancer. J Clin Virol. 2008;43(4):353-60. [PubMed]
47. Ueda Y, Enomoto T, Miyatake T, Shroyer KR, Yoshizaki T, Kanao H, Ueno Y, Sun H, Nakashima R, Yoshino K, Kimura T, Haba T, Wakasa K, Murata Y. Analysis of clonality and HPV infection in benign, hyperplastic, premalignant, and malignant lesions of the vulvar mucosa. Am J Clin Pathol. 2004;122(2):266-74. [PubMed]
48. Nakashima R, Yoshino K, Kimura T, Haba T, Wakasa K, Murata Y. Analysis of clonality and HPV infection in benign, hyperplastic, premalignant, and malignant lesions of the vulvar mucosa. Am J Clin Pathol. 2004;122(2):266-74. [PubMed]
49. Nahass GT, Blauvelt A, Leonardi CL, Penneys NS. Basal cell carcinoma of the scrotum. Report of three cases and review of the literature. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1992;26(4):574-8. [PubMed]
50. Eliezri YD, Silverstein SJ, Nuovo GJ. Occurrence of human papillomavirus type 16 DNA in cutaneous squamous and basal cell neoplasms. J Am Acad Dermatol. 1990;23(5 Pt 1):836-42. [PubMed]
© 2011 Dermatology Online Journal