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The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals. The vulva includes the opening of the vagina (sometimes called the vestibule), the labia majora (outer lips), the labia minora (inner lips), and the clitoris.
Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer, and can spread to other areas of the body. Most cancers of the vulva are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer begins in squamous cells, the main type of skin cells.
Medical History and Physical Exam
The first step is for the doctor to take your complete medical history to check for risk factors and symptoms. Then your doctor will give you a complete physical exam, including a pelvic exam. He or she will feel your uterus, ovaries, cervix, and vagina for anything irregular. Your doctor will also use a speculum to look at your vagina and cervix and may do a Pap test.
Certain signs and symptoms might strongly suggest vulvar cancer, but many of them can be caused by conditions that aren’t cancer. The only way to be certain that cancer is present is to do a biopsy. In this procedure, a small piece of tissue from the suspicious area is removed and examined under the microscope. A pathologist (a doctor specializing in diagnosing diseases by laboratory tests) will look at the tissue sample under a microscope to see if cancer or a pre-cancerous condition is present and, if so, what type it is.