The vulva is the area outside the body which is below the pubic hair triangle in the front lower abdomen. It is on the outside of the vagina. It provides the opening for making love, for the passage of menstrual blood and for the baby to be delivered into the outside world. It also enables urine to be passed out through the urethra, or small duct, for passing urine.

Vulval cancer can arise as a result of the HPV Virus, just as cervical cancer can, and from other conditions. Usually there is a pre-cancerous condition in the vulva which if detected and treated early enough may prevent the cancer spreading. This can cause soreness, dryness and itching on the vulva and if you have these symptoms you should tell your doctor who may want to refer you to a specialist if there is concern. There may also be pain and you may not be able to cope with making love.

Still some women are being overlooked with these symptoms, so if you are worried, seek help, and advice.

It is a very rare illness, about a thousand women a year will get vulval cancer, and often they have it for some time before diagnosis is established.

Your vulva should be thoroughly examined at the time of smear testing, but it does no harm for you to get used to your own vulva by looking in a mirror-not so easy if your sight is failing. Note the colour, the feel of the vulva so that you know if there are any changes. And please try not to smoke, it does raise the chances of developing it though it is not known why, although it may be to do with lowering the effectiveness of the immune system.