The vulva

The vulva is the name given to the visible sex organs that surround the opening of the vagina outside the body.

What is the vulva?

The vulva is the name given to the visible sex organs that surround the opening of the vagina outside the body. People who have a vulva can include women, trans men and people assigned female at birth.

Structure of the vulva

The vulva is made up of:

  • two thin, delicate folds of skin called the labia minora
  • two large, hair-covered folds called the labia majora – these surround the labia minora.

Between the labia are two openings:

  • the entrance of the vagina (birth canal)
  • the opening of the tube that drains urine from the bladder (the urethra).

At the front of the vulva is the outer tip of the clitoris. The clitoris is a sensitive structure that helps with sexual response and orgasm.

On either side of the vagina are two small glands called Bartholin’s glands. These make a fluid that acts as a lubricant during sex.

Above the vulva is an area of fatty tissue called the mons pubis.

Further back, under the legs, is the opening to the back passage (anus). The area of skin between the anus and vulva is called the perineum.

The area where the skin creases at the top of each leg is called the groin. There are lymph nodes under the skin of the groin. These are part of the body’s lymphatic system.

 

The vulva
Image: The vulva

 

 

Vulval cancer and the lymphatic system

Sometimes, cancer can spread through the lymphatic system. If vulval cancer spreads in this way, it is most likely to affect the lymph nodes in the groin.

The lymphatic system helps to protect us from infection and disease. It also drains lymph fluid from the tissues of the body before returning it to the blood. The lymphatic system is made up of fine tubes called lymphatic vessels that connect to groups of lymph nodes throughout the body.

Lymph nodes (sometimes called lymph glands) are small and bean shaped. They filter bacteria (germs) and disease from the lymph fluid. When you have an infection, lymph nodes often swell as they fight the infection.

 

The lymphatic system
Image: The lymphatic system

 

 

 

About our information

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    This information has been written, revised and edited by Macmillan Cancer Support’s Cancer Information Development team. It has been reviewed by expert medical and health professionals and people living with cancer. It has been approved by Senior Medical Editor, Professor Nick Reed, Consultant Clinical Oncologist.

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We use gender-inclusive language and talk to our readers as ‘you’ so that everyone feels included. Where clinically necessary we use the terms ‘men’ and ‘women’ or ‘male’ and ‘female’. For example, we do so when talking about parts of the body or mentioning statistics or research about who is affected. Our aims are for our information to be as clear and relevant as possible for everyone.

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