Vulvar and vaginal cancers

Wednesday 1 October, 2014

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The vulva and vagina

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

The vagina is a muscular tube that is sometimes called the birth canal. It is about 7.5–10 cm long and extends from the opening of the uterus, the cervix, to the external part of a woman’s genitals, the vulva. The vagina is the passageway through which menstrual blood flows, sexual intercourse occurs and a baby is born.

The vulva is a general term used to describe a woman’s external organs. The main parts of the vulva are the:

  • mons pubis
    the soft, fatty mound of tissue covered with pubic hair, above the labia
  • labia
    two large, outer lips (the labia majora), which surround two inner lips (the labia minora) that may be smaller or thinner
  • clitoris
    a highly sensitive organ found where the labia minora join at the top. When stimulated, the clitoris fills with blood and enlarges in size. Stimulation of the clitoris can result in sexual excitement and orgasm or climax.

The opening of the vagina is below the clitoris. There are also small glands near the opening of the vagina, called Bartholin’s glands, that produce mucus to lubricate the vagina.

The vulva is covered in skin, and the skin between the vulva and anus is called the perineum. 

The vulva and vagina

Reviewed by: Prof Jonathan Carter, Head Gynaecologic Oncology, Chris O’Brien Lifehouse, Professor of Gynaecological Oncology, University of Sydney, and Head Gynaecologic Oncology, Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, NSW; Ellen Barlow, Gynaecological Oncology Clinical Nurse Consultant, Gynaecological Cancer Centre, The Royal Hospital for Women, NSW; Jason Bonifacio, Practice Manager/ Chief Radiation Therapist, St Vincent’s Clinic, Radiation Oncology Associates and Genesis Cancer Care, NSW; Wendy Cram, Consumer; Kim Hobbs, Social Worker, Gynaecology Oncology, Westmead Hospital, and Chair COSA Social Work Group, NSW; Lyndal Moore, Consumer; Pauline Tanner, Cancer Nurse Coordinator, Gynaecological Cancer, WA Cancer and Palliative Care Network, WA.

Updated: 01 Oct, 2014