Gynecological or GYN cancers can strike at five areas within the pelvic structure of a woman. The five cancers include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Each of the GYN cancers is a distinct disease with its own signs, symptoms, risk factors, and prevention strategies.
Cervical cancer, a disease linked to the HPV virus, impacts the cervix, the lower end of the uterus. Risk factors include:
• Immunosuppression conditions (HIV)
• Early onset of sexual activity
• History of sexually transmitted infections
• Having had several sexual partners
This disease, which shows no symptoms, is usually detected in Pap smears, in conjunction with HPV screenings, administered regularly after age 21.
Ovarian cancer is one of the deadliest cancer among women. Because it shows symptoms such as bleeding, pelvic or abdominal pain, bloating, feeling full quickly when eating, and a change in bathroom habits, someone who experiences these symptoms has warning signs that something is wrong and can seek evaluation. Women are at greater risk for ovarian cancer if they:
• Are middle-aged or older
• Have had relatives who suffered from it
• Have a genetic mutation
• Have a history of colorectal, cervical, or melanoma
• Are of Eastern European Jewish background
• Have never given birth or had trouble getting pregnant
• Have endometriosis
Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect; sometimes ultrasound or CT scan imaging can be helpful in diagnosing this cancer. Unfortunately, no screening test exists at this time to diagnose ovarian cancer.
Uterine cancer or endometrial cancer, which forms in the lining of the uterus, is a risk for all women, but the risk is greater for those who:
• Are older than 50
• Are obese with high levels of body fat
• Take estrogen for hormone replacement without progesterone
• Had trouble getting pregnant or had fewer than five periods in the year before menopause
• Had close family members who have suffered from GYN cancers
Symptoms for uterine cancer include pain or pressure in the pelvis, or abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding that is too heavy, lasts too long, or occurs after menopause or between periods. Uterine cancer can be diagnosed by clinical history and an abnormal endometrial biopsy, or specimen obtained by D&C (dilation and cutterage procedure). Doctors also look for a thickened and/or enlarged endometrial stripe or enlarge uterus on pelvic ultrasound.
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer
Vaginal cancer starts in the birth canal, while vulvar cancer starts on the inner edges of the fold of skin known as the labia on the outmost part of the female genitalia. Although rare types of the disease, the cancer risks are increased if you:
Characterized by the vaginal discharge or bleeding, a change in bathroom habits, or pain in the pelvis, this cancer is one that can be prevented in future generations by receiving the HPV vaccine. There isn’t a screening for this type of cancer, so those who currently suffer from it must seek treatment once they experience symptoms.
Treatment Options for GYN Cancers
For most GYN cancers, the treatments include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy. For uterine cancer, hormone therapy is effective as well. In all cases, early identification and diagnosis of the disease, followed by treatment, drastically improves survival rates.
GYN cancers are best treated early. For best results, you should ask your doctor about any unusual symptoms occurring in your lower abdomen. For information, diagnosis, and treatment of any of these GYN cancers, contact Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Center today.
Rocky Mountain Women’s Health Centers now have a sister practice, the Center for Women’s Oncology that provides comprehensive diagnostic and treatment options for cancers that affect women.
This article reviewed by Dyanne Marcellina Tappin, MD.