Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

Peter Argenta, MD
Last Modified: November 1, 2001

Dear OncoLink "Ask the Experts,"
I have a large lump in the vulva area. When I use the bathroom I have some mild pain there. Should I be concerned about having vaginal cancer stage 2?

Peter Argenta, MD, OncoLink Editorial Assistant, responds:

Fortunately, vulvar or vaginal cancers comprise a small percentage of painful lumps in the female genitalia. More common causes include an infected hair follicle, a swollen lymph node, a vulvar fibroid, or an obstructed Bartholin's gland outlet. The Bartholin's glands are small (pea sized) glands in the posterior aspect of the vagina which secrete a small amount of fluid meant to help keep the vagina moist. These glands have very narrow ducts leading from the gland to the vaginal skin (mucosa) which occasionally can become clogged (usually by old skin cells). When clogging of the duct occurs the fluid secreted by the gland can cause swelling of the duct leading to a painful lump. Relief is almost instantaneous when this obstruction is relieved.

Most vulvar masses, including the one's mentioned above, can be diagnosed and treated in a single or few visits to a gynecologist. It is occasionally necessary to take a biopsy (a small sample) to view under the microscope to get an exact diagnosis. This can also usually be done in the office and should be nearly painless with local anesthesia. Biopsies should be taken if there is ever any question about the cause of a lump.

Most benign vulvar lesions will improve within two or three days by simply applying a warm wet compress intermittantly. Persistance for longer than 48-72 hours is cause to seek medical attention.