Tests and diagnosis

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Diagnosing vulvar cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose vulvar cancer include:

  • Examining your vulva. Your doctor will likely conduct a physical exam of your vulva to look for abnormalities.
  • Using a special magnifying device to examine your vulva. During a colposcopy exam, your doctor uses a device that works like a magnifying glass to closely inspect your vulva for abnormal areas.
  • Removing a sample of tissue for testing (biopsy). To determine whether an area of suspicious skin on your vulva is cancer, your doctor may recommend removing a sample of skin for testing. During a biopsy procedure, the area is numbed with a local anesthetic and a scalpel or other special cutting tool is used to remove all or part of the suspicious area. Depending on how much skin is removed, you may need stitches.

Determining the extent of the cancer

Once your diagnosis is confirmed, your doctor works to determine the size and extent (stage) of your cancer. Staging tests can include:

  • Examination of your pelvic area for cancer spread. Your doctor may do a more thorough examination of your pelvis for signs that the cancer has spread.
  • Imaging tests. Images of your chest or abdomen may show whether the cancer has spread to those areas. Imaging tests may include X-ray, computerized tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and positron emission tomography (PET).

Vulvar cancer stages

Your vulvar cancer is assigned a Roman numeral that denotes its stage. Stages of vulvar cancer include:

  • Stage I describes a small tumor that is confined to the vulva or the area of skin between your vaginal opening and anus (perineum). This cancer hasn't spread to your lymph nodes or other areas of your body.
  • Stage II tumors are those that have grown to include nearby structures, such as the lower portions of the urethra, vagina and anus.
  • Stage III cancer has spread to lymph nodes.
  • Stage IVA signifies a cancer that has spread more extensively to the lymph nodes, or that has spread to the upper portions of the urethra or vagina, or that has spread to the bladder, rectum or pelvic bone.
  • Stage IVB is a cancer that has spread (metastasized) to distant parts of your body.
Sep. 12, 2012

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