Symptoms and diagnosis of vulval cancer

Doctor talking to a female patient

Symptoms of vulva cancer

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

  • Itching, burning and soreness of the vulva that doesn’t go away.
  • A wart-like growth on the skin of the vulva
  • A lump or a swelling of your vulva  
  • Pain in the vulval area
  • A thickening raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
  • Bleeding or a blood-stained vaginal discharge not related to your menstrual cycle
  • Burning pain on passing urine or during sexual intercourse
  • A mole of the vulva that has changes in colour or shape

These symptoms can also be caused by conditions other than cancer, but it’s important to go to the GP and get any unusual changes checked out.

Talking to your GP

If you’re worried about cancer, it’s important to give your GP as much information as possible about your symptoms: how they feel, when they happen, how long they have been going on for. Tell your doctor you’re worried about cancer, so they can put your mind at rest. Read more about talking to doctors.

Can I be screened for vulva cancer?

Testing for vulva cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no national vulval cancer screening programme in Ireland at present, but the nurse will look at your vulva for any abnormal changes during a cervical smear test.

You can also check your own vulva regularly using a mirror. It is important to understand what your vulva normally looks like so you will know if anything changes.

Diagnosing vulval cancer

Your family doctor (GP) will talk to you about your symptoms. Your GP will refer you to hospital if they think you need more tests. Tests you might have include:

  • 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: Your doctor can take small amounts of tissue samples from your vulva. These are called biopsies. The vulval biopsy is usually carried out with a local anaesthetic. Biopsies are sent to a laboratory and looked at under a microscope to find out if cancer cells are present.

A gynaecologist is a doctor who specialises in treating problems with women’s reproductive systems, e.g. vagina, vulva, womb (uterus) and ovaries.

For more information

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