What You Should Know About Gynecologic Cancer

Originally Printed by: The Female Patient®, Reproduced with Permission

Gynecologic cancer is the fourth most common cancer in women. an Estimated 1 in every 20 women will develop gynecologic cancer in her lifetime. No one can predict for sure who will get a gynecologic cancer. That is why it is so important for women to pay attention to their bodies. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.

What are the Specific Gynecologic Cancers?

Gynecologic Cancers start in a woman’s reproductive organs. These cancers are named for the part of the body where the cancer starts. There are 5 main types of gynecologic cancer: ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. Each cancer appears with different signs and symptoms and has different prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and the risk increases with age. These cancers do not have to be life-threatening; there are early detection tools such as Pap tests.

Pay Attention to Your Health

Be familiar with your family history, and tell your gynecologist if there is a history of cancer in your family so she/he can recommend preventive steps. Learn the warning signs of these cancers, learn what is normal, and if you notice any unexplained signs or symptoms see a clinician right away. Some of these cancers have no warning signs, so it is important to make an appointment for an annual gynecologic exam and Pap test. Not all gynecologic cancers have tests to identify the individual cancer. The Pap test can screen for precancers and cell changes on the cervix. The human papillomavirus (HPV) test looks for the virus that can cause cell changes in cervical cancer.

The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. It is also recommended for females ages 13 to 26 who did not get any or all of the vaccine shots when they were younger.

What Are Some of the Signs or Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers?

Ovarian Cancer: Pain in the pelvic or abdominal area, back pain, being tired all the time, bloating (are below stomach), change in bathroom habits, upset stomach or heartburn, discharge from the vagina that is not usual.

Cervical Cancer: Early on the cancer may not cause signs or symptoms. In the advanced stage, bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal.

Uterine Cancer: Bleeding that is not normal for you — bleeding between periods, bleeding that is heavier or longer that 7 days even if light, bleeding or spotting after menopause.

Vaginal Cancer: Vaginal discharge or bleeding that is nor normal, a change in bathroom habits that is not normal, a pain in the pelvis and abdomen (especially when you have sex or urinate).

Vulvar Cancer: Itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva that does not go away; color changes and skin changes on the vulva; sores, lumps, or ulcers that do not go away; or pain in the pelvis (especially upon urinating or having sex).

If you are diagnosed with one of these cancers, your clinician will recommend a gynecologic oncologist, a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive organs. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment can be effective.

To find out more information about gynecologic cancers, go to the CDC website at: www.cdc.gov/features/gynecologiccancers