Gynecologic cancers are cancers of women’s reproductive organs. The five main types are cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. In this post we will discuss cervical, uterine and ovarian cancers.
All women are at risk for cervical cancer, although it occurs most often in women over age 30. Long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. Uterine cancer is endometrial cancer that forms in the lining of your uterus. All women are at risk for uterine cancer as long as they have a uterus, but the risk increases with age. Ovarian cancer is a group of diseases that originates in the ovaries, or in the related areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum and it comes in a variety of different tumor types. The most common tumor type is high-grade serous carcinoma, occurring in about 70% of ovarian cancer cases. Like with uterine cancer, there is no way to know for sure if you will get ovarian cancer, although most women get it without being at high risk.
Several hereditary conditions can raise your chance of getting cancer. Two of the most common are hereditary breast and ovarian cancer and Lynch syndrome. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may have a higher ovarian cancer risk. All women are at risk for uterine cancer as long as they have a uterus, but the risk increases with age. Most uterine cancers are found in women who are going through or who have gone through menopause. Some studies suggest that women who take estrogen without progesterone for 10 or more years may have an increased risk of ovarian cancer.
Uterine cancer may cause such as pain or pressure in your pelvis, vaginal discharge, or bleeding that is not normal for you, such as after you have gone through menopause and between periods. Bleeding is never normal after your periods stop. Ovarian cancer may cause vaginal bleeding, pain or pressure in the pelvic area, abdominal or back pain, feeling full too quickly or difficulty eating or a change in your bathroom habits. Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. When gynecologic cancer first develops, it might not cause any noticeable symptoms but when symptoms do happen, they’re usually attributed to other, more common conditions. If you have unusual vaginal bleeding, see a doctor right away. If you have any of the other signs for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you, see a doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.
Risk factors for uterine cancer are:
- Are older than 50.
- Are obese
- Take estrogen by itself (without progesterone) for hormone replacement during menopause.
- Have had trouble getting pregnant or have had fewer than five periods in a year before starting menopause.
- Take tamoxifen
- Have close family members who have had uterine, colon, or ovarian cancer.
Although most women get ovarian cancer without being at high risk, several factors may increase a woman’s risk for ovarian cancer, including if you:
- Are middle-aged or older.
- Have close family members (such as your mother, sister, aunt, or grandmother) on either your mother’s or your father’s side, who have had ovarian cancer.
- Have a genetic abnormality called BRCA1 or BRCA2, or one associated with Lynch syndrome.
- Have had breast, uterine, or colorectal (colon) cancer.
- Have endometriosis
- Have never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant.
Two screening tests can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early— the Pap test and HPV test. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years and that women with a cervix from age 25 until age 65, have the HPV test that looks for the virus that can cause cervical cancer, the human papillomavirus, every 5 years.
The Pap test (or Pap smear) looks for precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. The American Cancer Society recommends that women ages 21 to 29 should have a Pap test every 3 years and that women with a cervix from age 25 until age 65, have the HPV test every 5 years. Both tests can be done in a doctor’s office or clinic. If you have a low income or do not have health insurance, you may be able to get free or low-cost screening tests through CDC’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. (https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbcchttps://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/screenings.htmedp/index.htm)
Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancers except for cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs and learn what you can do to reduce your risk. If you have symptoms, in addition to a complete pelvic exam, your doctor may perform an endometrial biopsy, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a blood test.
Whatever you may need, whether you are having symptoms or not, Med First can help! Maintaining a healthy life means getting regular screenings and we have a variety of visit options to suit your needs, including self-scheduling, a dedicated appointment line, and just walking-in!