Lumps and bumps over the external genitalia (the vulva) or vagina are a fairly common concern that ladies may have. These can be normal or benign, or due to infections, sexually transmitted diseases, and less commonly, due to cancers (malignancy).
Here are some of the Causes of Vaginal Lumps & Bumps:
1) Benign bumps
Causes of benign bumps in the genital region include vestibular papillomatosis, Fordyce spots, ingrown hairs and folliculitis, various cysts (sebaceous cysts, Bartholin cysts).
This is a variation of normal anatomy. Vestibular papillomatosis appears as multiple, symmetrical, tiny bumps or finger-like projections over the labia minora and vestibule (vaginal opening). This can often be mistaken for warts and may thus be an undue cause for worry but there are features which help differentiate it from warts. No treatment is required for vestibular papillomatosis. It is harmless and it is NOT due to infection and cannot be spread to your sexual partners.
These are due to enlarged oil glands, which appear as tiny (1-3mm) whitish or yellowish bumps over the labia minora. These can also occur in other parts of the body, for instance around the edges of the lips or on the penis in men. They are completely harmless and painless and are part of normal anatomy. There is no need for any treatment or worry.
Folliculitis and ingrown hairs
Ingrown hairs may manifest as bumps, particularly in someone who shaves. Both ingrown hairs, as well as hair follicles, can get infected (known as folliculitis), resulting in small, red, tender bumps. Usually, topical creams will suffice for treatment. Good hygiene, particularly relating to hair removal, is helpful in reducing the risk of folliculitis.
Cysts are small round bumps that can be felt underneath the skin. These may arise from structures in the skin layer itself e.g. sebaceous cysts, or from glands which are found in the genital region near the labia minora (Bartholin’s glands).
Sebaceous cysts are the result of oil glands which get blocked. They are painless unless they become infected. Most of the time, they can be left alone—but in the event of infection or if they become too large, incision and drainage or removal may be necessary.
Bartholin cysts are the result of Bartholin’s glands which are blocked. These cysts can enlarge, become infected and tender. They also have a tendency to recur and a minor surgery to remove them may be required.
2) Infections and Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
These are caused by certain strains (type 6, 11) of the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). They appear as small skin-coloured bumps or irregular, cauliflower-like skin growths. They and can occur in isolation but are usually multiple. Genital warts usually appear anytime between weeks to 8 months (average 3 months) from the time of HPV infection and are highly infectious. The clinical course of warts can vary – in some individuals, genital warts may spontaneously resolve, while in others they may stay the same or increase in size and number.
The treatment of genital warts does not remove the underlying HPV infection and the only medication available against this is the HPV vaccine. The HPV vaccine protects against future infection but does not get rid of existing strains, so it is best to get vaccinated as soon as possible before one is exposed to more strains of HPV.
Read: Cervical Cancer, PAP SMEAR & HPV Vaccination – What you need to know
This is skin infection caused by the Molluscum contagiosum virus which causes multiple small, pearly white or skin coloured bumps, sometimes with a central dimple (“central umbilication”). These are painless, non-itchy and can occur not just in the genital region but elsewhere on the body as well. The virus is spread through direct skin contact, or through contaminated clothing and towels. These lesions are harmless and will generally resolve within 6 months to a year (occasionally longer). Treatments available to address these bumps include topical medications like imiquimoid cream, freezing, and electrosurgery (laser).
One of the stages of genital herpes is painful genital blisters – red bumps which eventually become fluid filled and later burst to form ulcers. Genital herpes is caused by the Herpes Simplex Virus which can be transmitted through secretions such as saliva or genital fluids. There is no cure for herpes, but antiviral medications are prescribed when an individual has a painful flare of blisters and ulcers.
Vulval or vaginal cancer are rare but serious causes of a vaginal lump or bump. These may be accompanied by other features such as persistent itching, pain, a persistent ulcer, and abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.
Vaginal melanoma (a type of cancer of the skin) can appear as a pigmented lump which may be associated with itching, bleeding and pain.
Malignancies tend to occur in older women but as their symptoms can be rather nonspecific, it is best to get any abnormal lump/bump checked.