Symptoms and diagnosis of cancer of the vulva

Symptoms

Often vulval cancer does not cause any early symptoms. The most common symptoms are:

  • Itching, burning and soreness of the vulva
  • A lump, swelling or wart-like growth on the skin of the vulva
  • Thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
  • Bleeding or a blood-stained vaginal discharge
  • Burning pain on passing urine
  • Pain in the vulval area
  • These symptoms can also be caused by complaints other than cancer, but do have them checked by your doctor.

Screening

Testing for vulval cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no screening for vulval cancer but your vulva can be examined during a routine cervical smear test. Your doctor or nurse (smeartaker) can spot any abnormal changes in your vulva at this time. You can also examine your own vulva regularly yourself.

Diagnosis

Visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your GP has concerns about you, he or she will refer you to a hospital to see a specialist called a gynaecologist. Tests such as the following may be done:

  • Pelvic exam
  • Biopsy

Pelvic exam: This is a physical exam of your vagina. Your doctor might also do an internal vaginal exam by putting a gloved finger into your vagina to check for any abnormal changes.

Biopsy: In a biopsy, a sample of tissue is taken from your vagina and sent to the laboratory to be examined under a microscope. This test can be done during a colposcopy and under local anaesthetic.

Other tests

These may include:

  • Blood tests
  • Chest X-ray
  • CT scan
  • MRI scan

The above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor to decide the right treatment for you.

Learn more about the above tests

Call our National Cancer Helpline

Freephone 1800 200 700 to talk to a specialist cancer nurse
It's open Monday-Thursday from 9am to 7pm and Friday from 9am to 5pm