Skip to content

What are the symptoms?

There are often few obvious symptoms of early vulvar cancer. The cancer is commonly diagnosed after a history of vulvar symptoms over several months or years. These may include:

  • itching, burning and soreness or pain in the vulva
  • a lump, sore, swelling or wart-like growth on the vulva
  • thickened, raised skin patches (may be red, white or dark brown)
  • a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour
  • blood, pus or other discharge coming from an area of skin or a sore spot in the vulva, which may have a strong or unusual smell or colour (not related to your menstrual period)
  • an ulcer that won’t heal
  • hard or swollen lymph nodes in the groin area.

Some symptoms are obvious, while others need to be touched or seen. Most people don’t look at their vulva, so they don’t know what is normal for them. The vulva can be difficult to see without a mirror, and some people feel uncomfortable examining their genitals. If you feel any pain in your genital area or notice any of these symptoms, visit your GP for a check-up.

Which health professionals will I see?

Your GP will arrange the first tests to assess your symptoms. If these tests do not rule out cancer, you will usually be referred to a specialist, such as a gynaecologist or gynaecological oncologist. The specialist will arrange further tests.

If vulvar or vaginal cancer is diagnosed, the specialist will consider treatment options. Often these will be discussed with other health professionals at what is known as a multidisciplinary team (MDT) meeting. During and after treatment, you will see a range of health professionals who specialise in different aspects of your care.

To ensure the best outcome, it is recommended that you are treated in a specialist centre for gynaecological cancer. Call Cancer Council 13 11 20 for more information and to ask about patient travel assistance that may be available.

 

GPassists with treatment decisions; works in partnership with your specialists in providing ongoing care
gynaecologistspecialises in diseases of the female reproductive system; may diagnose vulvar or vaginal cancer and then refer you to a gynaecological oncologist
gynaecological oncologistdiagnoses and performs surgery for cancers of the female reproductive system (gynaecological cancers), such as vulvar and vaginal cancers
radiation oncologisttreats cancer by prescribing and overseeing a course of radiation therapy
medical oncologisttreats cancer with drug therapies such as chemotherapy, targeted therapy and immunotherapy
reconstructive/plastic surgeonperforms surgery that restores, repairs or reconstructs the appearance and function of the genitals after the cancer is removed
nurseadministers drugs and provides care, information and support throughout treatment
cancer care coordinatorcoordinates your care, liaises with other members of the MDT and supports you and your family throughout treatment; care may also be coordinated by a clinical nurse consultant (CNC) or clinical nurse specialist (CNS)
psychiatrist, psychologist, counsellorhelps you manage your emotional response to diagnosis and treatment; may also help with emotional issues affecting sexuality
social workerlinks you to support services and helps you with emotional, practical and financial issues
dietitianrecommends an eating plan to follow while you are in treatment and recovery
women’s health physiotherapisttreats physical problems associated with treatment for gynaecological cancers, such as bladder and bowel issues, sexual issues and pelvic pain

This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2020 by the following expert content reviewers: A/Prof Alison Brand, Director, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Clinical Nurse Consultant, Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jane Conroy-Wright, Consumer; Rebecca James, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Suparna Karpe, Clinical Psychologist, Gynaecological Oncology, Westmead Hospital, NSW; Dr Pearly Khaw, Consultant Radiation Oncologist, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Sally McCoull, Consumer; A/Prof Orla McNally, Gynaecological Oncologist and Director, Oncology/Dysplasia, The Royal Women’s Hospital, and Director, Gynaecology Tumour Stream, Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre, VIC; Haley McNamara, Social Worker and Project Manager, Care at End of Life Project, Queensland Health, QLD; Tamara Wraith, Senior Clinician – Physiotherapy, The Royal Women’s Hospital, VIC.