Vulvar cancer diagnosis
If these tests show that you have vulvar cancer, the specialist will work out how far it has spread. This is known as staging.
Many people feel understandably shocked and upset when told they have vulvar cancer. If you need support, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.
Learn more about:
You are likely to have some of the following tests:
Physical examination – Your doctor will look at the vulva and examine your groin and pelvic area. They may also insert an instrument with smooth, curved sides (speculum) into your vagina, so the doctor can check the vagina and cervix for cancer.
Cervical screening test – This test looks for cancer-causing types of HPV in a sample of cells taken from the cervix or vagina. During the physical examination, the doctor uses a small brush or swab to remove some cells from the surface of the cervix. This test replaced the Pap test in 2017.
Colposcopy – This uses a magnifying instrument called a colposcope to look at the vulva, vagina and cervix. The colposcope is placed near your vulva but does not enter your body.
Biopsy – During a colposcopy, your doctor will usually take a small tissue sample (biopsy) from the vulvar area and possibly the vaginal area. A biopsy may be done under local anaesthetic, which numbs the area, or general anaesthetic, which sends you to sleep. Your doctor will explain how much bleeding to expect afterwards and how to care for the wound. A biopsy is the best way to diagnose vulvar cancer. The tissue sample will be sent to a laboratory for testing.
Imaging scans – If vulvar cancer is found, you may have one or more imaging scans to check if it has spread. These may include a chest x-ray, CT or MRI scan of the pelvis, or PET–CT scan. To find out more about these scans, call 13 11 20.
Staging vulvar cancer
Staging describes the size of the cancer and how far it has spread. Knowing the stage helps doctors recommend the best treatment for you.
|stage 1||Cancer is found only in the vulva; no spread to lymph nodes.|
|stage 2||Cancer is found in the vulva and has also spread to the lower urethra, the lower vagina or the lower anus; no spread to lymph nodes.|
|stage 3||Cancer is found in the vulva and/or perineum and has also spread to one or more of the following areas: the upper urethra, upper vagina, the lining of the bladder or rectum, or lymph nodes in the groin.|
|stage 4||Cancer has spread to the bone or more distant parts of the body, or has spread to nearby lymph nodes causing them to become fixed (stuck to other tissue) or ulcerated (open sores).|
What are lymph nodes?
Lymph nodes are part of your body’s lymphatic (drainage) system. The lymphatic system is a network of vessels, tissues and organs that helps to protect the body against disease and infection.
There are large groups of lymph nodes in the neck, armpits and groin. Sometimes vulvar cancer can travel through the lymphatic system to other parts of the body. To work out if the vulvar cancer has spread, your doctor may check the lymph nodes.
Podcast: Coping with a cancer diagnosis
Prof Alison Brand AM, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Kim Hobbs, Clinical Specialist Social Worker, Gynaecological Cancer, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Ming-Yin Lin, Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Lisa Mackenzie, Clinical Psychologist Registrar, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; Anne Mellon, CNC – Gynaecological Oncology, HNE Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, Hunter New England Local Health District, NSW; A/Prof Tarek Meniawy, Medical Oncologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital and The University of Western Australia, WA; Dr Archana Rao, Gynaecological Oncologist, Senior Staff Specialist, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, QLD; Tara Redemski, Senior Physiotherapist – Cancer and Blood Disorders, Gold Coast University Hospital, QLD; Anita Tyrrell, Consumer; Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD.
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