Vulvar and vaginal cancers

Saturday 1 October, 2016

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The vulva and the vagina are parts of the female reproductive system.

The vulva

The vulva is a general term for a woman’s external sexual organs (genitals). The main parts of the vulva are the:

  • mons pubis – the soft, fatty mound of tissue covered with pubic hair, above the labia
  • labia majora – two large, outer lips, which surround the inner lips known as labia minora
  • labia minora – two inner lips (may be smaller or thinner than the labia majora)
  • clitoris – the main organ for sexual pleasure in women. It is located where the labia minora join at the top. During arousal, the clitoris fills with blood and becomes erect, and its stimulation can lead to sexual climax (orgasm)
  • Bartholin glands – two small glands near the opening of the vagina. They produce mucus to lubricate the vagina.

The vagina

Sometimes called the birth canal, the vagina is a muscular channel about 7–10 cm long that extends down from the neck of the uterus (called the cervix) to the vulva. The vagina is the passageway through which menstrual blood flows, sexual intercourse occurs and a baby is born.

Urethra, anus and perineum

Beneath the clitoris is the urethra, for passing urine. Further back is the entrance to the vagina, and below that is the anus. The area of skin between the vagina and the anus is called the perineum.

Female sexual anatomy

Reviewed by:Professor Selvan Pather, Senior Staff Specialist, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, NSW; Dr Tiffany Daly, Radiation Oncologist, Mater Cancer Care Centre, South Brisbane, QLD; Anne Mellon, Gynaecological Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Oncology, Hunter New England Centre for Gynaecological Cancer, and Chair, Gynaecological Oncology Specialist Practice Network, Cancer Nurses Society of Australia, NSW; Deb Roffe, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA, SA; Juliane Samara, Gynaecological and Brain/Central Nervous System Tumour Cancer Specialist Nurse, Canberra Region Cancer Centre, ACT; Robyn Teuma, Consumer; Dr Charlotte Tottman, Clinical Psychologist, Allied Consultant Psychologists and Flinders University, SA; Dr Paige Tucker, Research Registrar and Gynaecological Oncology Clinical and Surgical Assistant, St John of God Subiaco Hospital, WA.

Updated: 01 Oct, 2016