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Screening for vulval cancer

Women discussing vulval cancer

This page is about screening for vulval cancer. There is information about

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Screening for vulval cancer

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. Screening is usually only used for illnesses that affect large numbers of people.

There is no screening programme for vulval cancer. But when you have a cervical screening test, the nurse or doctor should routinely examine your vulva. They should be able to spot any signs that could indicate abnormal cells are developing (VIN). Treating precancerous conditions like VIN will prevent many cases of vulval cancer.

Self examination

Some doctors recommend that you look at your own vulva regularly to look for any changes to the skin. Doing this may help you to pick up vulval cancer at an early stage, as well as other conditions that may need treatment.

You should do a self exam between periods. You will need to hold a mirror so that you can see the outside of your genitalia. Use the other hand to spread the labia. You will need to examine the whole area for anything that seems abnormal for you. Look for warts, sores and changes in skin colour – areas that are red, irritated, white or darkly coloured. Then feel each area for lumps under the surface.

If you do notice any changes, get them checked by your doctor, at a well woman clinic or at a sexual health clinic.

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the About vulval cancer section.

 

 

What is screening?

Screening means testing people for early stages of a disease before they have any symptoms. There is no national screening programme for vulval cancer.

Before screening for any type of cancer can be carried out, doctors must have an accurate test to use. The test must be reliable in picking up cancers that are there. And it must not give a positive result in people who do not have cancer. 

Screening is usually only used for illnesses that affect large numbers of people. Or groups of people who are known to be at high risk of getting a particular disease or condition. Screening the whole population for a rare condition would be very expensive. And it would mean medical examinations or tests that people may not be happy to have, if their risk of that condition is low.

 

Vulval examination

There is no screening programme for vulval cancer as such. But when you have a cervical screening test (smear test), the nurse or doctor should routinely examine your vulva. They may be able to see signs of abnormal cells. These abnormal cells are called vulval intraepithelial neoplasia, or VIN. If precancerous conditions such as VIN are treated, many cases of vulval cancer will be prevented.

If you have had VIN in the past, your doctor may want to routinely examine your vulva. And some people who have had lichen sclerosus may also need a regular vulval examination.  

Read more about the cervical screening test. And read about precancerous conditions such as VIN  and  lichen sclerosus

 

Self examination of the vulva

Some doctors recommend that you look at your own vulva regularly to look for any changes to the skin. Doing checks like this may help you to pick up vulval cancer at an early stage, as well as other conditions that may need treatment.

You can do a self examination between periods. There are different ways you can do this.

  • You can sit comfortably on a bed or mat. You will need to spread your legs and hold a mirror so that you can see the outside of your genitalia. Use the other hand to spread the labia
  • You can put a magnifying make up mirror on a closed toilet seat. Stand over the toilet with a leg on either side of the toilet. You can use both hands to spread the labia, or have a spare hand to steady yourself

You will need to examine the whole area from the pubic mound (mons pubis) to the anal opening, including both sets of labia, the clitoris and the vaginal opening. The pubic mound is the rounded, fleshy area above your pubic bone. Look over each area for anything that seems abnormal for you. Then feel each area for lumps under the surface, which you may not be able to see. These are some things to check for

  • Lumps, nodules, bumps, warts or sores (ulcers )
  • Changes in skin colour – areas that are red, irritated, white or darkly coloured

If you do notice any changes, get them checked by your doctor, at a well woman clinic or at a sexual health clinic. The earlier vulval problems are found, the easier they are to treat.

Diagram showing the anatomy of the vulva

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Updated: 21 January 2016