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Vulvar Cancer Diagnosis

Early and accurate diagnosis of vulvar cancer is important. It also is crucial to find out if and where the cancer has spread. This helps your doctors choose the best therapies for you.

At MD Anderson, specialized experts use the most modern and accurate equipment to diagnose vulvar cancer. With pinpoint attention to detail, our pathologists, diagnostic radiologists and specially trained technicians find the exact extent of disease. This helps increase the likelihood your treatment will be successful.

Vulvar Cancer Diagnostic Tests

If you have symptoms that may signal vulvar cancer, your doctor will examine you and ask you questions about your health, your lifestyle and your family medical history. Then, your doctor will do a pelvic exam and pap smear.

If you have a growth in the vulvar area that the doctor thinks might be cancer, the only way to tell for sure is a biopsy. Your doctor may use a special instrument called a colposcope to magnify the area and make it easier to remove the tissue. A small bit of tissue will be removed by:

  • Excisional biopsy: A small knife is used
  • Punch biopsy: A tiny punch tool is used

Other tests may help find out if you have vulvar cancer and if it has spread. These tests also may be used to learn if treatment is working.

Imaging tests, which may include:

  • CT or CAT (computed axial tomography) scans
  • MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scans
  • PET (positron emission tomography) scans
  • Chest X-ray

Getting a Second Opinion at MD Anderson

The pathologists at MD Anderson are highly specialized in diagnosing and staging every type of vulvar cancer. We welcome the opportunity to provide second opinions for vulvar cancers.

In rare cases, vulvar cancer can be passed down from one generation to the next. Genetic counseling may be right for you. Visit our genetic testing page to learn more.

Vulvar Cancer Staging

If you are diagnosed with vulvar cancer, your doctor will determine the stage of the disease.

Staging is a way of classifying cancer by how much disease is in the body and where it has spread when it is diagnosed. This helps the doctor plan the best way to treat the cancer.

Once the staging classification is determined, it stays the same even if treatment works or the cancer spreads.

Vulvar Cancer Stages

(source: National Cancer Institute)

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in situ): Abnormal cells are found on the surface of the vulvar skin. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue.

Stage I: The tumor is confined to the vulva.

IA: The lesion is 2 centimeters or smaller and:

  • Is confined to the vulva or perineum (the area between the anus and vagina)
  • Has spread into the stroma 1 millimeter or less
  • Has not spread into the surrounding lymph nodes

IB: The lesion is more than more than 2 centimeters in size and:

  • Has spread 1 millimeter into the stroma
  • Is confined to the vulva or perineum
  • Has not spread into surrounding lymph nodes

Stage II: The tumor is any size and has spread to adjacent perineal structures (anus, lower 1/3 of urethra, lower 1/3 vagina) but not to surrounding lymph nodes.

Stage III: The tumor is any size and may or may not have spread to adjacent perineal structures. Cancer has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage IV: The tumor has spread to other adjacent regions (upper 2/3 of the urethra, upper 2/3 of the vagina) or distant structures.

Clinical Trials

MD Anderson patients have access to clinical trials
offering promising new treatments that cannot be found anywhere else.

Knowledge Center

Find the latest news and information about vulvar cancer in our Knowledge Center, including blog posts, articles, videos, news releases and more.