Understanding Gynecologic Cancer – Female Reproductive Cancers

A gynecologic cancer is diagnosed every 6 minutes in a woman in United States. This term designates any type of cancers (abnormal growth and spread or invasion of cells) originating in the reproductive organs of women. For that reason, they are also called female cancers. Gynecologic cancers originate in different women reproductive organs located in the pelvic area, ie the area below the stomach and between the hips. A cancer is identified according to the body part it appears first. So:

  • When the cancer starts in the cervix (the lowest and narrowest part of the uterus or womb), it is called cervical cancer;
  • When it originates in the ovaries, the organs in charge of ova or eggs production, located one on each side of the uterus, the cancer is referred as ovarian cancer;
  • A cancer that originates in the uterus (the organ located in the pelvic area, where a woman bears her baby during pregnancy) is called uterine cancer;
  • Vaginal cancer originates in the vagina, the hollow channel located between the bottom of the uterus and the external area of ​​the body;
  • As for the vulva (external part of the female genital organs), the cancer will identified as vulvar cancer.

gynecologic cancers illustrated

Every gynecological cancer is different and has specific signs and symptoms. Moreover, they have not the same risk factors (anything that can increase the likelihood of contracting the disease) and requires different prevention strategies. Gynecologic cancers can affect any woman with higher risk when getting older. Fortunately, they are not a death sentence or a fatality. With early detection, their treatment is very effective.

Prevention, screening and detection of gynecologic cancers

Gynecologic cancers of the cervix, vagina and vulva are most often caused by the humanpapilloma virus (HPV), a group of over 150 virus types responsible for infection in certain sexually transmitted diseases. At present, there are two vaccines that protect against HPV types causing the majority of gynecological cancer cases. It is recommended to administer this vaccine to girls 11 and 12 years old. (Note: you can start administering the vaccine to girls 9 years old.) Preferably, girls should receive three doses of the vaccine before their first sexual contact. It can also be given to girls and women between 13 and 26 years of age who have not received any dose or who have not completed the series at a younger age. If you or someone close to you is in this age group, check with your doctor on this.

Screening involves testing to determine whether there is a disease before symptoms. The cancer screening tests are effective when they can detect the disease early. Early detection of disease can lead to more effective treatment. (The diagnostic tests are used when a person has symptoms. The purpose of diagnostic testing is to find out, that is, to diagnose the cause of symptoms, and also can be used to evaluate people who are considered to have a high risk of cancer.)

There is a screening test for one of the female cancers, cervical cancer, called a Pap test that can identify this cancer at an early stage, when treatment is most effective. The Pap test can also prevent it by identifying precancers, cell changes in the cervix that can develop into cancer if not treated properly. In addition to the Pap test, which is the primary screening of cervical cancer, there is another call HPV test, which identifies infection of human papillomavirus. The HPV test can be performed in women aged 30 years and older or women of any age and the results of the Pap test are not clear.

Because there is no simple and reliable way to detect gynecological cancers other than cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize the warning signs and learn what you can do to reduce your risk. Talk to your doctor if you think you have a high risk of gynecological cancers. Ask what you can do to lower your risk and find out if there is a screening that should be done.

Summary of the symptoms of gynecologic cancers

 

SYMPTOMS OR SIGNS

TYPE OF CANCER
  OVARIAN CANCER CERVICAL CANCER UTERINE CANCER VAGINAL CANCER VULVAR CANCER

 Irregular vaginal discharge or bleeding.

X

X

X

Pain or pressure in the pelvis.

X

X

X

X

 Pain in abdomen or lower back.

X

         Pain during sexual intercourse

 X

X

X

 Abdominal bloating or swollen abdomen

 X

 Changes in bowel habits

 X

X

 Persistent itching, or burning of the vulva while urinating

X

 Alterations in color or skin of the vulva, as rashes, sores or warts.

X