Vaginal or Vulvar Bumps? Here’s What Could Be Causing Them

by Eileen Bailey Health Writer

You discover bumps or a lump in your vagina or on your vulva (the outer genital area) — maybe while you are shaving, showering, or having sex. Your first thought might be that there is something seriously wrong, such as cancer or a sexually transmitted disease (STD). Most of the time, however, bumps or lumps in these areas are not a sign of something serious. Let’s take a look at some of the common worries and other possibilities.

Could this lump or bump in my genital area be cancer?

It is highly unlikely. Vulvar cancer is rare, according to the National Cancer Institute. Only 0.3 percent of women will be diagnosed with vulvar cancer in their lifetime. This type of cancer grows very slowly; in fact, it can take years for cancer to develop. In cases when vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) is detected and treated early, in Stage I, the rate of survival is 86.4 percent.

Although many women with vulvar cancer do not experience symptoms, some might have itching in the vulvar or genital area that will not go away. Some women might also notice the skin around the vulva is thicker, lighter, or darker than the surrounding skin, according to the American Cancer Society. The skin also may look red or pink.

Besides VIN, other types of cancer that can occur on the vulva include squamous cell carcinoma and melanoma. Symptoms of these cancers include a lump, itching, pain, and bleeding or a discharge that is not associated with your period.

Statistically speaking, the lump or bump you found is most likely not cancer, but it is wise to see your doctor if you have any of the symptoms described.

Could this lump or bump in my genital area be an STD?

Two types of STDs that may cause skin problems in the genital area are herpes and genital warts.

Genital herpes, however, typically causes sores or lesions, not bumps. These lesions usually itch, burn, and are quite painful. The sore spot may resemble a bug bite that turns into a blister, which then opens and looks like an ulcer. The first occurrence of genital herpes typically lasts two to four weeks, while recurrences may heal more quickly. If you have a lump or bump but it isn't painful or uncomfortable, it probably isn’t genital herpes.

Genital warts are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). These bumps resemble cauliflower and can grow in numbers. You can get genital warts through genital-to-genital contact or even from touching genitals with hands affected by warts. Warts can grow on the labia, inside the vagina, on the cervix, and even around the anus. They start as pink, tan, or red swollen areas that are the size of rice grains. Some warts are painless and hardly noticeable, while others can grow in size to more than three inches. Some genital warts will cause itching and burning.

Could this lump or bump in my genital area be a cyst?

One of the more likely causes of vulvar bumps are cysts. These cysts look very different from vulvar cancer or an STD.

A swollen bump near the opening of your vagina may also be a Bartholin gland cyst. The Bartholin glands release fluid during sex that helps with lubrication. Cysts in these glands are usually not painful unless they are infected. Treatment varies depending on the condition of the cyst. If it’s not painful, it may just be monitored over time. In other cases, however, you may need a minor procedure to drain the cyst in your doctor’s office.

Another type of cyst is a sebaceous cyst, which is an enclosed round sac under the skin. These cysts protrude under your skin and give it a whitish or yellowish appearance. They usually do not cause pain and are almost always noncancerous. The trouble occurs when you pick at them and they burst, setting yourself up for an infection — so avoid trying to pop cysts.

Some of the signs of infection of a ruptured sebaceous cyst may include tenderness, pain, swelling, grayish white or cheesy fluid leaking from the cyst, as well as a foul odor to the pus.

What else could cause a bump or lump in my genital area?

Another common cause of bumps in the vulvar area is folliculitis. When bacteria infects your hair follicles, it can cause small red bumps to appear. This may happen as a result of shaving, waxing, or friction. Sometimes, these bumps are itchy or painful. They usually go away on their own.

Lichen planus and lichen sclerosus are other skin disorders that may cause bumps in the genital area. Lichen sclerosus usually makes the vulvar skin itchy, white, smooth, and thin. Lichen planus often causes firm, reddish purple bumps that can be itchy and painful. These disorders usually are treated with steroid cream or other medications.

Bottom line

It’s normal to want peace of mind if you notice something out of the ordinary in your genital area. Remember: The best thing you can do if you see or feel something down there that doesn’t seem normal is to make an appointment with your gynecologist or other doctor. Usually, the cause is nothing serious and is easily treated.

This is an update of an article originally written by HealthCentral contributor Merely Me.

Eileen Bailey
Meet Our Writer
Eileen Bailey

Eileen Bailey is an award-winning author of six books on health and parenting topics and freelance writer specializing in health topics including ADHD, Anxiety, Sexual Health, Skin Care, Psoriasis and Skin Cancer. Her wish is to provide readers with relevant and practical information on health conditions to help them make informed decisions regarding their health care.