Diagnosing Vulvar Cancer – Symptoms and Treatments

Vulva Doctors may use various tests to look for, or diagnose vulvar cancer. In addition, they may also conduct tests to determine whether the cancer has spread (metastasised) to another area of the body. After undertaking a comprehensive physical examination, a Vulva Specialist may also carry out tests in order to determine which treatments could be the most viable

Putting a Spotlight on Diagnosing Vulvar Cancer

As with most forms of cancer, a biopsy is the only definitive method for a Vulva Doctor to ascertain if cancer is present in a specific region of the body. A biopsy describes the Vulva Specialist/Medic extracting a small sample of tissue. (The type of biopsy that is carried out, will depend on the area of the suspected tissue). This will be sent to a laboratory pathologist right away. Should a biopsy not be possible, then the Vulva Consultant may use other types of tests to help determine a diagnosis [1].

There are a number of tests which are employed for vulvar cancer diagnosis. The Vulva Specialist will chose which one/ones they use, inline with various factors. These include:
• The most likely type of cancer
• The patient’s signs and symptoms
• The patient’s age
• The patient’s general health
• Results of previous medical tests [1]

“A physical examination, including a pelvic exam, is the first step in diagnosing vulvar cancer. During the examination, the Vulva Doctor inspects the vulva and then feels the uterus, vagina, ovaries, bladder, and rectum, to check for any unusual changes” [1]

In order to diagnose vulvar cancer, in addition to a physical examination and biopsy, the Vulva Doctor may also undertake the following tests:

• Colposcopy: this is done to check whether there are any abnormalities in the cervix, vulva or vagina, particularly if a patient’s HPV (human papillomavirus) or Pap tests show abnormal results. A colposcope is similar to a microscope, in that it gives the Vulva Consultant a lighted, magnified view of these regions
• Chest X-Ray: this generates a picture of the internal structures of the body. It may be employed to determine whether cancer has spread to the lungs
• Computed Tomography (CT /CAT) Scan: this machine takes pictures of the inside of a patient’s body by utilising x-rays which are captured from different angles. A computer then combines these images into a comprehensive, 3-dimensional image that shows any tumours or abnormalities. In addition, the CT scan can be utilised to determine the size of a tumour
• Positron Emission Tomography (PET) or PET-CT Scan: this machine (which is normally combined with a CT scan), captures pictures of internal tissues and organs
• Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): this machine utilises magnetic fields (as opposed to X-rays), in order to generate detailed images of the inside of a patient’s body. MRI can also be employed to measure the size of a tumour. A contrast medium (special dye), is given to the patient (prior to the scan), in order to produce a clearer picture. This dye is normally injected via a vein
• Endoscopy: this lighted, thin, flexible, tube-like device, enables the Vulva Doctor to see the inside of a patient’s body. The patient can be sedated as the Vulva Specialist inserts the tube through the urethra into the bladder (cystoscopy), or through the anus into the rectum (colonoscopy). Sedation is provided so that the patient feels calm and relaxed [1]

Once the diagnostic tests are completed, your Vulva Doctor will discuss the results with you. If you should have a cancer diagnosis, then additional testing to ascertain the full extent of the cancer, will be undertaken as soon as possible.


[1]. Cancer.net (2023). “Vulvar Cancer: Diagnosis.”