If you suspect you may have vulvar cancer, promptly schedule an appointment with your physician. Try not to worry, though – while symptoms like pain, itching, bleeding and skin changes can be scary, they are more often than not caused by something other than cancer. During your appointment, your physician will take a complete medical history and ask you to describe your symptoms to determine whether vulvar cancer is a possible cause.
Can vulvar cancer be detected during a physical exam?
To determine if you may have vulvar cancer, your physician will begin by conducting a physical examination that includes a pelvic exam. He or she will feel your vagina, cervix, ovaries and uterus, and may also perform HPV and Pap tests.
Can vulvar cancer be detected during a biopsy?
If vulvar cancer is suspected after your initial physical exam, your physician may order a biopsy. This procedure involves taking a small tissue sample to be examined under a microscope for abnormalities. To determine which area of your vulva should be biopsied, your physician may perform a vulvoscopy to examine your vulva under a magnifying lens (colposcope). Alternatively, your physician may wipe the suspicious area with toluidine blue, a dye that causes skin with certain characteristics to turn blue.
Once the abnormal area has been identified, a local numbing agent will be injected. Then, one of two kinds of biopsies will be performed:
- Punch biopsy – A small piece of a larger abnormal area is removed. Stitches usually aren’t needed after a punch biopsy.
- Excisional biopsy – The entire abnormal area is removed (typically used if the area is small). Stitches may be required.
If you would like to be tested for vulvar cancer, contact Moffitt Cancer Center. You can call 1-888-663-3488 or complete a new patient registration form to request an appointment with or without a referral. If cancer is found, you can benefit from an individualized treatment plan, a multispecialty team comprised of experienced cancer experts and a wide range of supportive care services.