Signs and symptoms of vulvar cancers and pre-cancers
Symptoms depend on whether it is a cancer or pre-cancer and what kind of cancer it is.
Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia
Most women with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) have no symptoms at all. When a woman with VIN does have a symptom, it is most often itching that does not go away or get better. An area of VIN may look different than normal vulvar skin. It is often thicker and lighter than the normal skin around it. However, an area of VIN can also appear red, pink, or darker than the surrounding skin.
Because these changes are often caused by other conditions that are not pre-cancerous, some women don't realize that they might have a serious condition. Some try to treat the problem themselves with over-the-counter remedies. Sometimes doctors might not even recognize the condition at first.
Invasive squamous cell cancer of the vulva
Almost all women with invasive vulvar cancers will have symptoms. These can include:
- An area on the vulva that looks different from normal – it could be lighter or darker than the normal skin around it, or look red or pink.
- A bump or lump, which could be red, pink, or white and could have a wart-like or raw surface or feel rough or thick
- Thickening of the skin of the vulva
- Pain or burning
- Bleeding or discharge not related to the normal menstrual period
- Open sore (especially if it lasts for a month or more)
Verrucous carcinoma, a subtype of invasive squamous cell vulvar cancer, appears as cauliflower-like growths similar to genital warts.
These symptoms are more often caused by other, non-cancerous conditions. Still, if you have these symptoms, you should have them checked by a doctor or nurse.
Patients with vulvar, melanoma can have many of the same symptoms as other vulvar cancers, such as:
- A lump
- Bleeding or discharge
Most vulvar melanomas are black or dark brown, but they can be white, pink, red, or other colors. They can be found throughout the vulva, but most are in the area around the clitoris or on the labia majora or minora.
Vulvar melanomas can sometimes start in a mole, so a change in a mole that has been present for years can also indicate melanoma. The ABCDE rule can be used to help tell a normal mole from one that could be melanoma.
Asymmetry: One-half of the mole does not match the other.
Border irregularity: The edges of the mole are ragged or notched.
Color: The color over the mole is not the same. There may be differing shades of tan, brown, or black and sometimes patches of red, blue, or white.
Diameter: The mole is wider than 6 mm (about 1/4 inch).
Evolving: The mole is changing in size, shape, or color.
The most important sign of melanoma is a change in size, shape, or color of a mole. Still, not all melanomas fit the ABCDE rule.
If you have a mole that has changed, ask your doctor to check it out.
Bartholin gland cancer
A distinct mass (lump) on either side of the opening to the vagina can be the sign of a Bartholin gland carcinoma. More often, however, a lump in this area is from a Bartholin gland cyst, which is much more common (and is not a cancer).
Soreness and a red, scaly area are symptoms of Paget disease of the vulva.
Last Medical Review: 07/02/2014
Last Revised: 02/16/2016