You may have some symptoms of vulval cancer. They can be vague, particularly at an early stage.

If you have any symptoms do get them checked by your GP.

Possible symptoms

Symptoms around the vulval area can include:

  • a lasting itch
  • pain or soreness
  • thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin
  • an open sore or growth visible on the skin
  • a mole that changes shape or colour
  • a lump

Other symptoms include:

  • burning pain when you pass urine
  • discharge or bleeding, not related to your periods
  • a lump or swelling in the groin

These symptoms can be caused by other conditions, such as infection. See you GP if you notice any of these symptoms. Your GP can examine you. They can refer you for tests or see a specialist if needed.

It is important to get treatment if you have an infection. It could turn out to be something more serious. It is even more important to get treatment if this is the case.

Checking for changes in the vulva

Some doctors recommend that you look at your own vulva regularly to look for any changes. They call this self examination. Checks like this might help you to pick up vulval conditions and cancer at an early stage. These can then be treated if needed.

How do I check?

You can do a self examination between periods. There are different ways you can do this:

  • sit comfortably on a bed or mat, spread your legs and hold a mirror so that you can see the outside of your genitalia. Use the other hand to spread the labia
  • put a magnifying make up mirror on a closed toilet seat. Stand over the toilet with a leg on either side of the toilet. Use both hands to spread the labia, or have a spare hand to steady yourself

You will need to examine the whole area from the pubic mound (mons pubis) to the anal opening, including both sets of labia, the clitoris and the vaginal opening.

The pubic mound is the rounded, fleshy area above your pubic bone. Look over each area for anything that seems abnormal for you. Then feel each area for lumps under the surface, which you might not be able to see.

These are some things to check for:

  • lumps, nodules, bumps, warts or sores (ulcers)
  • changes in skin colour – areas that are red, irritated, white or darkly coloured

Get any changes checked by your doctor, at a well woman clinic or at a sexual health clinic. The earlier vulval problems are found, the easier they are to treat.

Diagram showing the anatomy of the vulva

Treatment for vaginal thrush

Thrush is a common yeast infection that can affect the mouth and skin in different parts of the body. The symptoms of vaginal thrush can be similar to vulval cancer and include: 

  • itching and soreness
  • white discharge
  • pain when passing urine or having sex

If you think you keep getting thrush, don't just keep treating yourself with over the counter creams, such as Canesten.

It is worth going to the GP for a check up. This is to make sure that thrush is the root cause of your discomfort. The itching could be a sign that you are developing vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN).

Last reviewed: 
18 Jan 2019
  • 2014 UK national guideline on the management of vulval conditions

    S Edwards and others 

    International journal of sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS, 2015 Vo,l 26 Issue 9, Pages 611-24

  • Premalignant lesions of the lower female genital tract: cervix, vagina and vulva

    McCluggage WG (2013) 

    Pathology, 2013. Vol 45, Issue 3, Pages 214-28

  • Cancer of the Vulva

    FIGO cancer report 2018

    L Rogers and M Cuello

    International Journal of Gynaecology and Obstetrics, 2018. Vol 143,  Issue S2, Pages 4-13

  • Referral for suspected cancer. A clinical practice guideline
    The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015, updated July 2017

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    Healthcare Improvement Scotland, May 2015

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