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See your GP if you notice any changes in the normal appearance of your vulva.
Your GP will ask you about your symptoms, look at your medical history, and examine your vulva to look for any lumps or unusual areas of skin.
If you would prefer to be examined by a female doctor or you would like a nurse present during the examination, it may help to let your GP surgery know in advance of your appointment.
If your GP feels some further tests are necessary, they will refer you to a hospital specialist called a gynaecologist. A gynaecologist is a specialist in treating conditions of the female reproductive system.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) recommends that GPs consider referring a woman who has an unexplained vulval lump or ulcer, or unexplained bleeding.
The gynaecologist will ask about your symptoms and examine your vulva again, and they may recommend a test called a biopsy to determine whether you do have cancer.
A biopsy is where a small sample of tissue is removed so it can be examined under a microscope to see if the cells are cancerous.
This is often done after a local anaesthetic has been given to numb the area, which means the procedure shouldn't be painful and you can go home the same day. Occasionally, it may be done under general anaesthetic (where you're asleep), which may require an overnight stay in hospital.
Your doctor may put a few stitches in the area where the biopsy was taken from. You may have slight bleeding and soreness for a few days afterwards.
Your doctor will usually see you 7 to 10 days later to discuss the results with you.
If the results of the biopsy show cancer, you may need further tests to assess how widespread it is.
These may include:
The results of these tests will allow your doctor to "stage" your cancer. This means using a number system to indicate how far the cancer has spread.
Vulval cancers are staged using a number from 1 to 4. The lower the stage, the less the cancer has spread and the greater the chance of treatment being successful.
The staging system for vulval cancer is:
Stage 1 and 2 vulval cancers are generally regarded as early-stage cancers with a relatively good chance of being treated successfully. Stage 3 and 4 cancers are usually regarded as advanced-stage cancers and a complete cure for these types of cancers may not always be possible.