What Is Gynecologic Cancer?
Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that originates from a woman’s reproductive organs. There are several types of gynecologic cancer:
- Cervical cancer: begins in the part of the uterus that opens into the vagina.
- Ovarian cancer: begins in the ovaries.
- Uterine cancer: also known as endometrial cancer, begins in the lining of the uterus.
- Vaginal cancer: begins in the vagina.
- Vulvar cancer: begins in the vulva, the external genitalia.
What Are The Symptoms Of Gynecologic Cancer?
Symptoms vary depending on the type of gynecologic cancer. A common symptom between the different types is abnormal vaginal bleeding and discharge.
- Pelvic pain can occur with uterine and ovarian cancer.
- Bloating, constipation, and an increased urgency to urinate can occur with ovarian cancer.
- Visible lesions, itching, soreness, and a change in skin color can occur with vulvar cancer.
Since these symptoms are vague and can also be caused by other, less serious conditions, regular gynecologic exams are important to check for signs of cancer.
What Are The Risk Factors For Gynecologic Cancer?
All women are at risk for developing gynecologic cancer. Family history, obesity, age, and human papillomavirus (HPV) infection are some factors that may increase your risk of developing gynecologic cancer.
How Is Gynecologic Cancer Diagnosed?
Your doctor will review your medical history, perform a physical exam, and run diagnostic tests including blood tests, a pap test, and imaging tests to diagnose gynecologic cancer. If gynecologic cancer is detected, a biopsy will be performed to determine the stage of cancer. Some gynecologic cancers present as pre-cancer when detected early and are easily treatable.
How Is Gynecologic Cancer Treated?
Many early-stage cancers are cured with surgery alone. For more advanced cervical, uterine, and ovarian cancers, you may have a hysterectomy (surgery to remove the uterus). Your doctor may also recommend:
How Can Gynecologic Cancer Be Prevented?
Regular pap tests, pelvic exams, maintaining a healthy diet, and getting the HPV vaccine can all help prevent gynecologic cancer. Currently, cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that has a routine screening test (pap test), so regular gynecologic exams are important to check for signs of disease.
How often should I get a Pap smear?
The OB/GYN specialists at MemorialCare follow the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommended screening guidelines for Pap smears:
- First Pap smear at age 21
- Every three years from ages 21 to 64
- Stop screening at age 65, depending on history
FAQs About Gynecologic Cancer
Fertility is affected depending on the type of gynecologic cancer you’ve been diagnosed with and your treatment plan. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy can affect the ovaries and bring on early menopause. Having a hysterectomy will prevent you from being able to have children. If your fertility will be affected by treatment for gynecologic cancer and you wish to have biological children in the future, your eggs can be removed and frozen before treatment to be used for surrogate pregnancy.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 10% of ovarian cancers (about 2,000 women per year) result from BRCA gene mutations.
No, fibroids are benign growths that originate within the uterine muscle wall. Depending on the severity of the fibroid, your doctor may recommend surgery to have it removed.
Most ovarian cysts are benign and go away naturally on their own. If it doesn’t go away on its own and causes uncomfortable symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove it.
While a negative Pap smear means that you do not have cervical cancer, a positive Pap smear does not necessarily mean that you have cancer. A positive Pap smear may be inconclusive and often requires further testing.
A Pap smear may come back positive if you have:
- Inflammation: This may clear up on its own or with antibiotics.
- Minor cell changes: Watch and wait. Get another Pap smear in 2-3 months.
- Moderate to severe cell changes: This may be an indication of precancerous changes or the presence of cancer. Further tests are needed.
Vaginal bleeding after menopause should always be evaluated by a doctor. Most often, bleeding after menopause is caused by a benign condition, however, abnormal bleeding is the most common symptom of uterine (endometrial) and cervical cancer.
We provide numerous support groups and resources to guide you through your gynecologic cancer journey.