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The vulva

Women discussing vulval cancer

This page tells you about the vulva. There is information about

 

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The vulva

The term vulva means the external sex organs of a woman. The vulva is made up of two pairs of lips. The outer pair of lips is called the labia majora and the inner pair of lips is called the labia minora. Between these lips are two openings. One is the entrance to the vagina. The other is the urethra, which is the outlet for urine.

At the front of the vulva is the clitoris, which helps a woman reach a sexual climax. The opening to the back passage, the anus, is also close to the vulva, but is separate from it. The sheet of skin between the vagina and the anus is called the perineum.

Cancer of the vulva

Vulval cancer can start on any part of the vulva. But the most common sites are the inner edges of the outer lips and the inner lips. Less often, it may involve the clitoris, or two small glands each side of the vagina called the Bartholin’s glands. It is also sometimes diagnosed in the perineum.

Vulval cancer does not form quickly. First, cells become abnormal. Then these abnormal cells may go on to develop into cancer. If you have abnormal cells present you may be told you have precancerous changes. Your doctor may say you have VIN or vulval intraepithelial neoplasia. This does not mean that you have cancer. It is the stage before a cancer has developed. Some of these cell changes will go away without treatment. Finding these abnormal cells early and having treatment (if necessary) can prevent vulval cancer.

 

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The vulva

The term vulva means the external sex organs of a woman. The vulva is made up of two pairs of lips. The outer pair of lips is called the labia majora and the inner pair of lips is called the labia minora. Between these lips are two openings. One opening is the entrance to the vagina. The other opening is the urethra, which is the short tube that carries urine from the bladder to the outside of the body.

At the front of the vulva is the small organ called the clitoris, which helps a woman reach a sexual climax.

The opening to the back passage, the anus, is also close to the vulva, but is separate from it. The area of skin between the vagina and the anus is called the perineum.

Diagram showing the anatomy of the vulva

 

Cancer of the vulva

Cancer of the vulva is also called vulval cancer or vulvar cancer. It can start in any part of the female external sex organs. The most common sites are the inner edges of the outer lips (labia majora) and the inner lips (labia minora).

Less often, vulval cancer may involve the clitoris or two small glands each side of the vagina, called the Bartholin's glands. It is also sometimes diagnosed in the perineum (the skin between the vulva and the anus).

Vulval cancer does not form quickly. Usually, there is a gradual change in the cells. First, normal cells become abnormal. Then these abnormal cells may go on to develop into cancer. If you have some of these abnormal cells present, you may be told you have precancerous changes. Your doctor may say you have VIN or vulval intraepithelial neoplasia. This means abnormal vulval cells. It does not mean cancer. It is the stage before a cancer has developed. Some of these cell changes will go away without treatment. Finding these abnormal cells early and having treatment (if necessary) can prevent vulval cancer.

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Updated: 29 November 2013