The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals including the opening of the vagina and the two sets of skin folds surrounding this. The outer fold is called the labia majora and the inner fold is the labia minora.
Vulval cancer can occur on any part of the external female sex organs. The inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora are the most common areas for it to develop. Less often, vulval cancer may also involve the clitoris and the Bartholin glands. The Bartholin glands produce mucus that lubricates the vagina. They are small glands that are located on each side of the vagina. Vulval cancer can also sometimes affect the perineum.
Symptoms of vulval cancer
The most common symptoms of cancer of the vulva are:
- itching, burning or soreness of the vulva that doesn't go away
- a lump, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
- thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva
- bleeding, or a blood-stained vaginal discharge, not related to menstruation (periods)
- burning pain when passing urine
- tenderness or pain in the area of the vulva
- a sore or ulcerated area on the vulva
- a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour.
Any of these symptoms can occur due to conditions other than cancer, but it's always important to get your doctor to check them.
Cancer of the vulva can take many years to develop. It usually starts with precancerous cells that change slowly over several years into cancerous cells. As with other cancers, it's easier to treat and cure if it's diagnosed at an early stage.
*Information provided by Macmillan cancer support