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Understanding Vulvar Biopsy

A vulvar biopsy is a test used to check for vulvar cancer or another skin disease affecting the vulva. The vulva is the outer part of a woman’s genitals. During a biopsy, small tissue samples are taken from areas of skin that look changed (abnormal). The tissue is then checked in a lab for cancer and other types of skin disease.

 How to say it

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Why a vulvar biopsy is done

A vulvar biopsy may be done if you have patches of skin on your vulva that look abnormal, such as:

  • Areas of skin that are white, or turn white after a special diluted vinegar-like solution is put on them

  • Patches of skin that are red, pink, gray, brown, or bumpy

  • A sore that doesn’t heal

  • A lump or growth on the vulva

  • Genital warts that don’t go away

How a vulvar biopsy is done

The biopsy is a quick procedure. It’s often done in a healthcare provider’s office. You may be told to take over-the-counter pain medicine before the biopsy. This can help prevent pain after the biopsy. This is what the procedure may be like:

  • The skin in the area is cleaned with special swabs. The healthcare provider may put medicine on the skin to numb it. Then a small needle will be used to inject medicine into the area to help prevent pain during the biopsy.

  • The healthcare provider may use a tool called (colposcope) to do the biopsy. This scope has a magnifying lens that lets the provider clearly see even small changed areas of skin. The scope stays outside your body.

  • When the area is numb, the provider will take out a small piece (sample) of the skin. This is done with a small, sharp tool. This is called a punch biopsy. Sometimes a thin slice of the skin is removed. In some cases, the entire patch of changed skin is removed (excisional biopsy). Your healthcare provider will tell you which kind of biopsy you will have.

  • If the provider takes a larger piece of skin, the area will then be closed with stitches (sutures).

  • You will be told how to care for the area after the biopsy to help it heal.

The tissue removed during the biopsy is then checked under the microscope by a special doctor called a pathologist. This doctor looks for precancer or cancer cells in the biopsy sample. You'll get the results in about a week. Your healthcare provider will tell you if you need any follow-up tests.

Risks of a vulvar biopsy

  • Pain

  • Infection

  • Bleeding

  • Blood blister (hematoma)

  • Bruising

  • Loss of skin color (hypopigmentation) or increased skin color (hyperpigmentation) in the biopsy area

  • Scarring

Know what to expect after the biopsy. Ask what type of pain medicine you can use and how to care for the biopsy area. Also ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for and when to call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.

Online Medical Reviewer: Howard Goodman MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kim Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Lu Cunningham
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2016
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