The broad group of cancers called "gynecologic cancer" affect a woman’s reproductive organs, and it includes cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancer. Though no woman is without risk, some women may be at a greater risk of developing a gynecologic cancer than others, and a woman’s risk increases with age.
According to the American Cancer Society, nearly 100,000 new cases of gynecologic cancer will be diagnosed this year, and approximately 30,000 women will die of one of these cancers. What kinds of gynecologic cancers are there, and what are their symptoms?
Types of gynecologic cancer
Cervical cancer affects the lower, narrow end of the uterus, called the cervix. Screening tests and a vaccine to prevent HPV infections may help prevent cervical cancer. When detected early, cervical cancer is highly treatable.
Ovarian cancer affects one or both of a woman’s ovaries, which are located in the pelvis. Ovarian cancer is responsible for more deaths than any other gynecologic cancer; however, ovarian cancer can be treated if detected early. Changes in BRCA genes may increase a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer. Cancer of the fallopian tubes is often connected to ovarian cancer.
Uterine cancer affects the womb. The most common type of uterine cancer is endometrial cancer, which affects the lining of the uterus. Treatment is most successful when uterine cancer is found early.
Vaginal cancer affects the vagina, or birth canal. Treatment is most successful when vaginal cancer is found early.
Vulvar cancer affects the outer part of the female genital organs. Like other gynecologic cancers, treatment is most successful when vulvar cancer is found early.
Symptoms of gynecologic cancer
Signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer vary based on the individual and the type of cancer. See your doctor immediately if you experience any unusual vaginal bleeding or if you have notice the following symptoms lasting two weeks or longer:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Abdominal or back pain
- Bloating and/or changes in bathroom habits.
- Itching or burning of the vulva and/or changes in vulva color or skin, such as rashes, sores or warts.
While these symptoms may indicate cancer, they may be caused by something other than cancer, so it is wise to see your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms or notice any changes.
Treatment for gynecologic cancer
There are several treatment options available to patients with gynecologic cancer, depending on the type and progression of the cancer. Primary treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In most cases, a woman with gynecologic cancer will receive more than one kind of treatment.
Some women may also choose to participate in a clinical trial and/or try complementary and holistic medicine (such as meditation, yoga and vitamin and herb supplements) as part of their treatment plan. Always talk to your doctor before you start any complementary or alternative medicine.
Preventing gynecologic cancer
Treatment for all types of gynecologic cancer is most effective when the cancer is found early. That's why it is important for a woman to know her body and know what is and is not normal for her. Likewise, it is important for a woman to know if she has a family history of gynecologic cancer. Self-examinations and routine screenings can result in early detection and improve a woman’s chance of complete cure. A healthy diet and regular exercise may also help lower a woman’s risk of developing cancer.
If you notice any changes in your health or experience any of the signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer, schedule an appointment with your doctor today. If you have been diagnosed with cancer, contact the Goshen Center for Cancer Care.