Vulval biopsy

Your specialist might want you to have a biopsy. This is the best way to find out whether or not you have a vulval condition or cancer.

What is a biopsy?

A biopsy means removing a sample of tissue from the affected area of the vulva. 

Types of vulval biopsies

You may have one of the following types of biopsies:

  • incisional biopsy 
  • punch biopsy

What happens during a biopsy?

You usually have your biopsy as a day patient. You don’t need any special preparation beforehand. You have a local anaesthetic injection into part of the vulva, which numbs the area. Your specialist will make sure the area is numb before they start the biopsy.  

Because of their symptoms, some women might find it too painful to have a biopsy with a local anaesthetic. In this situation you have a general anaesthetic. You might still be able to go home the same day, although some may stay overnight.

Incision biopsy

Your specialist removes a small sample of tissue from the vulva. You may have 1 or 2 stitches to reduce any bleeding from the area.

Punch biopsy

To do this biopsy, the doctor uses an instrument that looks like a tiny apple corer. It removes a small piece of skin. You don't usually need any stitches after this type of biopsy.

What happens after a biopsy

The specialist sends the sample to the laboratory to an expert called a pathologist. They examine the tissue under a microscope. They can work out whether or not you have cancer or abnormal cells. These abnormal cells are called vulval intraepithelial neoplasia VIN, or precancerous changes.

If you do have vulval cancer, looking at the cells under the microscope will show which type of vulval cancer it is.

Possible side effects

The anaesthetic injection may sting for a short time. You should not feel any pain after this. Do tell your doctor if it feels uncomfortable, they can give you more local anaesthetic.

Afterwards, you may have slight bleeding for a few days. This is nothing to worry about. But do tell your doctor if the bleeding is getting heavy.

You may also have some soreness for a few days. Mild painkillers can help.

There is a small risk of an infection. You should contact the team looking after you if you notice the area becoming more:

  • red
  • swollen
  • painful

Another sign of infection is a discharge from the vulval area.

You will have advice on cleaning the area after passing urine. It may help to pour a cup of cool tap water over the area after weeing. This will help clean the area and reduce any discomfort you may have.

You will have an appointment for the results of the biopsy. The stitches are often dissolvable. If not, you have an appointment to remove them.

Getting your results

You will have to wait to get the results. Ask your doctor or nurse how long this will take and how you will get the results. Contact the doctor who arranged the test if you haven’t heard anything after a couple of weeks.

Waiting for results can be an anxious time. It may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel. You might have contact details for a specialist nurse. You can contact them for information if you need to.

You can also contact the Cancer Research UK nurses for support on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.

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