The 8 Most (And Least) Likely Reasons You Have A Bump Near Your Vagina
Today in things that are probably not fit for polite conversation but absolutely worth talking about, we're covering bumps on your vagina and general genital region. The different types often have different symptoms and appearances, but they typically have a rare, untreatable cancer. Very unlikely, Alyssa Dweck, MD, assistant clinical professor of obstetrics at Mount Sinai School of Medicine and co-author of 48 V Is For Vagina, tells SELF*.* "Women come into my office worried about [genital bumps] all the time, and many jump to the initial, horrible conclusion that they have cancer," she explains. In reality, that's the least likely cause. Here, Dweck explains much more believable origins of your bump, and what you can do to treat it.
1. You have a Bartholin's cyst.
This is one of the most common bump-related reasons women wind up in Dweck's office. "If you look at the opening of the vagina like it's a clock [with the clitoris being 12:00], at 5:00 and 7:00, there are Bartholin's glands, which secrete mucus," says Dweck. Sometimes these glands become blocked or infected, leading to bumps that can get pretty big (Dweck has seen golf ball-sized Bartholin's cysts). What's inside of them differs. Sometimes they leak a clear, mucus-like liquid, other times they weep pus, and in some instances they're not filled with fluid at all, says Dweck. These cysts can be painful, but the good news is that they sometimes go away on their own after soaking them in warm water over a few days. But if you're in pain or having trouble sitting or walking correctly, head to a gynecologist. They can drain it for you or prescribe antibiotics.
2. You have bumps because of your hair removal method.
"Shaving, waxing, and whatnot can cause an infection in some of the small hair follicles around the vulva, which can create bumps and lumps," says Dweck. These infections can make themselves known with anything from rash-like razor burn to a boil full of pus. To lessen the likelihood of hair removal-induced irritation, Dweck recommends swapping out your razors frequently, shaving in the direction of your pubic hair, and using something like shaving cream to elevate the hair off the skin and reduce the chance of nicks. You can also try changing your method, either from shaving to waxing or vice versa. And if you're still prone to getting these bumps, you can apply an antibiotic ointment like Neosporin after shaving to ward off infection-causing bacteria.
3. You have a sebaceous cyst.
Hurrah for another bump that's actually quite harmless. "[Sebaceous cysts] are benign, usually superficial lumps that can occur anywhere on the vulva and often show up on the labia," says Dweck. "They typically have a white hue, can be solitary or multiple, and often go away on their own." They also don't usually hurt, which is why most women find them while doing something like showering instead of investigating the source of random pain, says Dweck. If it's been a few weeks and the bump hasn't subsided, feel free to check in with a doctor about it.
4. You have genital warts.
Human papilloma virus (HPV), the most common sexually transmitted infection, can cause genital warts, which often manifest in a telltale way. "[They] have the appearance of a little piece of cauliflower, and many times you'll have more than one," says Dweck. But warts don't always look like that—sometimes they're flat instead of raised, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). (You can have a strain of HPV that causes genital warts without any bumps showing up-you can also pass the genital warts to a partner even if you do not see any on yourself, according to Planned Parenthood.) Although genital warts can go away on their own, seeing a doctor can get rid of them faster. "There are lots of treatments for warts. We can surgically remove them, use creams, and laser them," says Dweck.
5. You have genital herpes.
There's a lot of stigma around this diagnosis, but herpes is not the end of your life—sexual or otherwise. Tons of people don't know they have genital herpes because it's often asymptomatic. But when genital herpes does show up, it sometimes does so in the form of irritating bumps. "Herpes can cause blisters and little pustules, but what usually brings someone [with herpes into my office] is the pain," says Dweck. The blisters often look like little pimples on a red base, and they can be extremely uncomfortable. Seeing a doctor can help you figure out a plan of action, which may include antiretroviral medication.
6. You have syphilis.
Someone once told me that "no one gets syphilis anymore," which...no. Syphilis rates are actually on the rise, according to 2015 data from the CDC, and sometimes this sexually transmitted infection presents as a painless chancre, or round, open sore on your genitals. "During a primary syphilis outbreak, it's usually just one sore that's about the size of a dime or smaller," says Dweck. Since condoms don't always protect against syphilis, it's key to get tested regularly.
7. You have molluscum contagiosum.
Yes, there's an STI out there that sounds like a Harry Potter spell. Even though you may have never heard of molluscum, you might have gotten this little-known sexually transmitted infection without realizing it. Although doctors sometimes see it in children, it can also be passed along sexually. "If you have molluscum, multiple little red bumps with a crater in the middle may appear [on the vulva]," says Dweck. You and your doctor can figure out a treatment plan, which may involve medications or laser therapy.
8. You (might, but probably don't) have cancer.
This is the last option on the list because it's the least likely, and because you absolutely should not jump to this conclusion if you find a lump on your nether regions. "Vaginal cancer is very rare. Vulvar cancer is not as rare, but still uncommon and typically a disease of older women," says Dweck. Both vaginal and vulvar cancers don't necessarily show symptoms. If they do, a bump is only one of the potential signs—others include painful urination, bleeding, itching, and burning, according to Mayo Clinic and American Cancer Society. Those are all reasons you'd want to see the ob/gyn anyway, as they can be symptoms of various infections.
Doctors have also found the skin cancer melanoma on the vulva, says Dweck. In that case, the signs can be the same as melanoma on any other part of the body: a skin lesion that may or may not be raised, may or may not bleed .
No matter what you're thinking a random bump may be, if you're really worried, go see a doctor. Don't convince yourself it's probably harmless if you're truly freaking out. If it is something that needs treatment, a doctor can walk you through your options. And as Dweck (and many other ob/gyns) have told me, even if it's NBD, doctors are more than happy to check you out and put your mind at ease.
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