Symptoms of vulval cancer

You may have some symptoms of vulval cancer. But not everyone diagnosed with vulval cancer will have symptoms.

Symptoms of vulval cancer can be vague, particularly at an early stage. 

You should see your GP if you have an open sore in the vulva or any of the other symptoms mentioned here. Although your symptoms may not be cancer, it's important to get them checked by a doctor. Your GP can examine you and refer you for tests or see a specialist if needed.

Symptoms of vulval cancer include:

  • an open sore or growth visible on the skin
  • a persistent itch
  • bleeding
  • pain or soreness
  • thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin
  • a mole that changes shape or colour
  • a lump or swelling in the groin
  • burning pain when you pass urine

Vulval intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN)

VIN is a skin condition of the vulva. It is not vulval cancer but could turn into cancer. 

Symptoms of VIN can be similar to the symptoms of vulval cancer. It includes itching and changes to the vulval skin. It’s important to see your GP if you have any of these symptoms.

Vaginal thrush

Thrush is a common yeast infection that can affect different parts of the body including the vagina. Symptoms of vaginal thrush can be similar to symptoms of vulval cancer. These include: 

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

Treatment for thrush is usually a tablet or a cream such as Canesten.

If you keep getting thrush, it's worth seeing your GP or visiting a sexual health clinic. Don't keep treating yourself with over the counter creams. Your GP can check whether something else is causing your symptoms. 

Checking for changes in the vulva

Some doctors recommend that you look at your 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.

You need to examine the whole area from the pubic mound (mons pubis) to the anal opening. This includes the:

  • inner and outer lips
  • clitoris
  • vaginal opening

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 your vulva. Use the other hand to separate the outer lips
  • 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 separate the outer lips
Diagram showing the anatomy of the vulva with Bartholinns glands

What to look out for

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.

Some of the things to check for include:

  • 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 GP, or at a sexual health clinic. The earlier vulval problems are found, the easier they are to treat.

  • British Gynaecological Cancer Society (BGCS) vulval cancer guidelines: recommendations for practice
    British Gynaecological Cancer Society, 2020

  • Relationship between vulvar symptoms and incidence of vulvar cancer in women referred to a rapid access clinic
    A Wiggans and others
    International Journal of Gynaecology & Obstetrics, 2019. Vol 145, Issue 3. Pages 283-286

  • Cancer of the vulva: 2021 update (FIGO cancer report 2021)
    A Olawaiye, M Cuello and L Rogers
    International Journal of Gynaecology & Obstetrics, 2021. Vol 155, Issue S1, Pages 7-18

  • Suspected cancer: recognition and referral
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2015. Last updated 2021

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    Healthcare Improvement Scotland, 2019. 

Last reviewed: 
09 Nov 2022
Next review due: 
09 Nov 2025