What guidelines GPs use to help them decide who needs to be referred to a vulval cancer specialist.
Vulval cancer is rare. Most cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 65. There are particular symptoms that mean your GP should refer you to a specialist straight away.
Seeing your GP
It can be difficult to tell the difference between vulval cancer and other non cancerous conditions of the vulva. So it can be hard for GPs to decide who may have a suspected cancer and who may have something much more minor that will go away on its own.
With many symptoms, it is perfectly right that your GP should ask you to wait to see if they get better or respond to treatment (such as antibiotics).
If GPs referred everyone who came to see them to a specialist immediately, the system would get jammed and those needing urgent appointments wouldn't be able to get them.
UK referral guidelines
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) and Healthcare Improvement Scotland (HIS) produce guidelines for GPs in the UK. The guidelines help them decide who needs an urgent referral.
The NICE guidelines say that your GP should consider an urgent referral (within 2 weeks) to a specialist if you have:
- an unexplained vulval lump or sore (ulceration)
- bleeding from the vulva
If you go to the doctor with itching or pain, your doctor might suggest some treatment and keep an eye on you to see if the symptoms go away.
Asking to see a specialist
It is reasonable for your doctor to try to treat vulval itching or pain. These symptoms could be caused by a skin infection, for example.
But if you are concerned that your GP is not taking your symptoms as seriously as you think he or she should, you could ask your GP to talk through their decision with you.
You could print out this page or show it to your doctor on your mobile device and then you might be able to decide together whether you need to see a specialist and if so, how soon.
What happens when you see a specialist?
If you see a specialist they will want to examine you and may do several tests.