Vulvar Cancer Detection and Diagnosis

Symptoms of vulvar cancer include those listed below. But often there are no signs or symptoms. Regular pelvic exams at any age are essential to finding vulvar cancer early when it is most treatable without disfiguring surgery.

  • Vulvar itching that does not improve
  • Change in skin color around the vulva
  • Change in the feel of the skin around the vulva
  • Pain when urinating
  • Enlarged glands or lumps in your groin
  • Bumps, growths, ulcers or sores in the vulvar or clitoral areas
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Change in an existing mole in the vulvar area

Early Detection

There is no standard screening for vulvar cancer beyond the annual pelvic exam. If an abnormality is found, your physician may perform additional tests, such as:

  • Colposcopy: a special viewing scope with magnifying lenses is used to examine the vulva and vagina.
  • Biopsy: a small sample of abnormal tissue is removed for examination under a microscope for signs of cancerous changes.


In addition to a biopsy, diagnostic equipment may be used to see if the cancer has spread. This may include:

  • Cystoscopy or proctoscopy: to check to see if cancer has spread to the urethra or bladder, a thin, lighted tube (cystoscope) is inserted through your urethra. Similarly, a proctoscope is inserted into your rectum to check for cancer there.
  • Pelvic examination: for a more thorough pelvic exam, it may be performed while the patient is asleep under anesthesia.
  • Computed tomography scan (CT): combines multiple X-rays to provide three-dimensional clarity and show various types of tissue, including blood vessels. CT not only confirms the presence of a tumor, but can show its precise location, size and involvement with adjacent tissue.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): magnets and radio waves provide three-dimensional images of the body. Used to view biochemical changes in the body to detect cancerous tumors, particularly those that have spread beyond the vulva. It may also be used to determine if a tumor is benign or malignant.
  • Positron emission tomography scan (PET): aspecific dye injected into a vein highlights cancer cells growing anywhere in the body that can then be detected by a special camera.