You should see your doctor if you notice a change that isn't normal for you or if you have any of the possible signs and symptoms of vulval cancer.
Even if you're worrying about what the symptom might be, don't delay seeing them. Your worry is unlikely to go away if you don't make an appointment. The symptom might not be due to cancer. But if it is, the earlier it's picked up the greater the chance of successful treatment. You won't be wasting your doctor's time.
Try not to be embarrassed. What you tell your GP is confidential. Doctors are used to discussing intimate problems and will try to put you at ease.
Getting the most out of your GP appointment
When you see the doctor, it can be difficult to remember everything you want to say. These tips will help you get the most out of your appointment.
- Write down your symptoms including when they started, when they happen and how often you have them.
- Write down if anything makes them worse or better.
- Tell your GP if you are worried about cancer in particular.
- Tell them if you have any family history of cancer.
- Take a friend or relative along for support - they could also ask questions and help you remember what the GP says.
- Ask the GP to explain anything you don’t understand.
- Ask the GP to write things down for you if you think it might help.
What happens during your GP appointment
Your doctor needs to build up a picture of what's going on. So they will ask you some questions. These include:
- what symptoms you have
- when you get them
- whether anything makes them better or worse
They will ask you about your general health and any other medical conditions you have.
During the appointment your doctor may want to examine you. You can ask for someone else to be in the room if you want, to act as a chaperone. This chaperone can be a friend or relative, or a trained health professional such as a practice nurse. They can be with you during the examination or throughout the appointment.
If you would rather see a male or a female doctor it is worth asking when you book the appointment.
Tests and examinations your GP might do
Depending on your symptoms your GP might do a general examination. They may examine the vulval area and groin nodes on both sides. They are checking for any enlarged lymph nodes or lumps in this area. They may also do an internal examination.
For this examination you lie down on your back with your knees up and legs apart. Your GP looks at the vulva and may feel it to check for any changes.
They may also do a pelvic examination. They put two gloved fingers into your vagina, and at the same time press down on your tummy (abdomen) with their other hand. They may also check your back passage (rectum). They can feel for any lumps or changes in size or shape.
Sometimes they may need to examine the vagina and cervix. Your doctor uses a speculum to gently open your vagina. They can look at your vagina and cervix to see if there is anything abnormal.
Some women may find this examination embarrassing and it can be uncomfortable. Your GP will be as gentle as possible and try to put you at ease. You can ask to have someone else in the room with you. This is usually a nurse at your GP practice.
Depending on your symptoms and physical examination, your doctor might:
- be able to reassure you
- refer you to the hospital for tests or to see a specialist
The GP might arrange for you to have some blood tests. You may have these at your GP practice or your local hospital.
Questions you might want to ask your GP
- Do I need to see a specialist? Is it urgent?
- When will I see them?
- Where will I see them?
- Will I find out about my appointments by post or telephone?
- Do I need tests? What will they involve?
- How long should I expect to wait?
- Where can I find out more about tests?
- Do I have to do anything in preparation for this test?
- When will I get the results and who will tell me?
Your GP might not be able to answer all of your questions. They will tell you what they can at this point. Not knowing is difficult to cope with and can make you anxious.
If they don't think you need any tests or a referral
- Can you explain why I don’t need to have tests or see a specialist?
- Is there anything I can do to help myself?
- Do I need to see you again?
- Who do I contact if my symptoms continue or get worse, especially during the night or at weekends?
What happens next
Make sure you know what happens next. Make another appointment if your symptoms don’t clear up, or if they change or get worse.
Referral to a specialist
Depending on your symptoms, your doctor might feel that you need some more tests. They will refer you to a specialist at your local hospital.
This may be a specialist in woman's diseases (a gynaecologist) or a specialist in skin diseases (dermatologist).
How to find a GP
If you don’t have a GP, you can find a doctor’s surgery in your local area by going to:
Making a GP appointment
You can book an appointment online at most GP surgeries. Or you can telephone them or go in person. You don’t have to tell the receptionist what you want to see the doctor for, although sometimes it might help to explain your situation.
Try different times of the day if it's difficult to get through by phone. It could be particularly busy at the beginning of the day. Your surgery might have a clinic you can turn up to and wait to see a doctor. You might have to wait a long time but you’ll see a doctor that day.
If it’s difficult to get to the surgery, check whether your practice has telephone appointments with a doctor or nurse practitioner. They’ll tell you if you need to go in to see them at the surgery.
Accept a booked appointment, even if you think it’s a long time to wait. You could ask about cancellations if you are able to get to the practice at short notice.