Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Learn more about gynecological cancers

September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, so let’s look at some of the issues we deal with here at Complete Women Care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are five main types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. As a group, they are referred to as gynecologic (GY-neh-kuh-LAH-jik) cancer. The sixth type of gynecologic cancer is the very rare fallopian tube cancer.

Types of GYN Cancer

What is ovarian cancer?

Cancer on one or both of the ovaries in a woman’s reproductive system. When ovarian cancer is found early on, treatment is most effective.


Who can get ovarian cancer?

Older women are more likely to get ovarian cancer than younger women but all woman can be affected. According to the CDC, About 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40, with the greatest number of ovarian cancers occurring in women aged 60 years or older.

Each year, about 21,000 women in the U.S. get ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death.


What raises a woman’s chance of getting ovarian cancer?

The following factors can increase the risk of getting ovarian cancer:

  • Being middle-aged or older
  • Having 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
  • Having had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer
  • Having an Eastern European Jewish background
  • Having never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant
  • Having endometriosis

It doesn’t mean you will get ovarian cancer if you have one or more of these factors but you should speak to your doctor or other health professional about your risk.


What are the symptoms?

  • Abnormal bleeding
  • Abnormal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic or abdomen area
  • Back pain
  • Bloating
  • The feeling of being full very quickly
  • Difficulty eating
  • Change in bathroom habits

Can it be prevented?

There is no way to prevent ovarian cancer. But these things may lower your chance of getting ovarian cancer:

  • Being on birth control pills 5+ years
  • Previously given birth
  • Had a tubal ligation procedure or hysterectomy
  • Breastfeeding. Some studies suggest that women who breastfeed for a year or more may have a modestly reduced risk of ovarian cancer.

What tests can be done to detect early on?

There is no simple and reliable way to test for ovarian cancer in women who do not have any signs or symptoms. The Pap test DOES NOT screen for ovarian cancer. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.

However, there are steps you can take:

  • Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you.
  • If you notice any changes in your body that are not normal for you and could be a sign of ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor and ask about possible causes, such as ovarian cancer.
  • Ask your doctor if you should have a test, such as a rectovaginal pelvic exam, a transvaginal ultrasound, or a CA-125 blood test if:
    • You have any unexplained signs or symptoms of ovarian cancer. These tests sometimes help find or rule out ovarian cancer.
    • You have had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer; or a close relative has had ovarian cancer.

Source: CDC.ORG

What is cervical cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.

When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. The cervix is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. The cervix connects the vagina (the birth canal) to the upper part of the uterus. The uterus (or womb) is where a baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

Cervical cancer is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. It also is highly curable when found and treated early.


Who can get it?

All women are at risk for cervical cancer. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Each year, approximately 12,000 women in the United States get cervical cancer.

The human papillomavirus (HPV) is the main cause of cervical cancer. HPV is a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex. Most sexually active people will have HPV at some point in their lives, but few women will get cervical cancer.


What are the symptoms?

Early on, cervical cancer may not cause signs and symptoms. Advanced cervical cancer may cause bleeding or discharge from the vagina that is not normal for you, such as bleeding after sex. If you have any of these signs, see your doctor. They may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.


What tests can prevent cervical cancer or detect it early on?

There are two tests that can either help prevent cervical cancer or find it early:

  • The Pap test looks for precancers, cell changes, on the cervix that can be treated, so that cervical cancer is prevented. It can also find cervical cancer early when treatment is most effective. This test is recommended for women aged 21-65 years old. The Pap test only screens for cervical cancer. It does not screen for any other gynecologic cancer.
  • The HPV test looks for HPV— the virus that can cause precancerous cell changes and cervical cancer.

When should I get tested?

The Pap test is one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. You should start getting regular Pap tests at age 21. If your Pap test results are normal, your doctor may say that you will not need another Pap test for three years.

The HPV test can be used to screen for cervical cancer along with the Pap test in women aged 30 years and older. It also is used to provide more information when women aged 21 years and older have unclear Pap test results.

If you are age 30 or older, you may choose to have an HPV test along with the Pap test. If the results are normal, your chance of getting cervical cancer in the next few years is very low. Your doctor may then say that you can wait up to five years for your next screening.

For women aged 21-65, it is important to continue getting a Pap test as directed by your doctor—even if you think you are too old to have a child or are not having sex anymore. However, your doctor may tell you that you do not need to have a Pap test if either of these is true for you:

  • You are older than 65 and have had normal Pap test results for several years.
  • You have had your cervix removed as part of a total hysterectomy for non-cancerous conditions, like fibroids.

See your doctor regularly for a Pap test that can find cervical precancers.

  • Follow up with your doctor if your Pap test results are not normal.
  • Get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. It is important to note that even women who are vaccinated against HPV need to have regular Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer. To learn more about the HPV vaccine visit
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Use condoms during sex.
    ** HP V infection can occur in both male and female genital areas that are covered or protected by a latex condom, as well as in areas that are not covered. While the effect of condoms in preventing HPV infection is unknown, condom use has been associated with a lower rate of cervical cancer.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners.

Source: CDC.ORG

What is uterine cancer?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.

When cancer starts in the uterus, it is called uterine cancer. The uterus is the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis (the area below your stomach and in between your hip bones). The uterus is also called the womb, is where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.

The most common type of uterine cancer is also called endometrial cancer because it forms in the lining of your uterus, called the endometrium.

When uterine cancer is found early, treatment is most effective.


Who gets uterine cancer?

All women are at risk for uterine cancer, and the risk increases with age. Most uterine cancers are found in women who are going through, or who have gone through menopause—the time of life when your menstrual periods stop.

Each year, approximately 50,600 women in the United States get uterine cancer. It is the fourth most common cancer in women in the United States and it is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer.


What are the signs and symptoms of uterine cancer?

Signs and symptoms of uterine cancer include:

Vaginal discharge that is not normal for you.

AAbnormalvaginal bleeding. The bleeding may be abnormal because of how heavy it is or when it happens, such as bleeding after you have gone through menopause; bleeding between periods; or any other bleeding that is longer or heavier than normal for you.

Pain or pressure in your pelvis.

Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. If you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, see a doctor right away. If you have any of the other signs and they last for two weeks or longer, see a doctor. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.


What raises a woman’s chance of getting uterine cancer?

There is no way to know for sure if you will get uterine cancer. Some women get it without being at high risk. However, the following factors may increase a woman’s risk for uterine cancer:

• Being older than 50.

• Being obese (having a high, unhealthy amount of body fat).

• Taking estrogen by itself for hormone replacement during menopause (without also taking the other female hormone, progesterone).

• Having had trouble getting pregnant, or fewer than five periods in a year at any time in your life before starting menopause.

• TakingTamoxifen, a drug used to treat certain types of breast cancer.

• Having people in your family with a history of uterine, colon, or ovarian cancer.

If one or more of these things are true for you, it does not mean you will get uterine cancer. But you should speak with your doctor to see if he or she recommends more frequent exams.


How can I prevent uterine cancer?

There is no known way to prevent uterine cancer. But these things have been shown to lower the chance of getting uterine cancer:

Using birth control pills.

Maintaining a healthy weight and being physically active.

Taking progesterone (the other female hormone) if you are taking estrogen to replace hormones during menopause.


Are there tests that can find uterine cancer early?

The Pap test does not screen for uterine cancer. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.

Routine testing for uterine cancer is not recommended for women who have no symptoms. This is why you need to know the signs of uterine cancer and see your doctor if you have any of them.

If you think you may be at high risk for uterine cancer, talk with your doctor about whether there are tests you should have and how often you should be checked.

If you have symptoms or are at high risk for uterine cancer, your doctor may perform an endometrial biopsy or transvaginal ultrasound. Your doctor may be able to do these tests in his or her office, or may refer you to another doctor.

Source: CDC.ORG

What are vaginal and vulvar cancers?

Cancer is a disease in which cells in the body grow out of control. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts, even if it spreads to other body parts later.

When cancer starts in the vagina, it is called vaginal cancer. The vagina, also called the birth canal, is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.

When cancer forms in the vulva, it is vulvar cancer. The vulva is the outer part of the female genital organs. It has two folds of skin, called the labia. Vulvar cancer most often occurs on the inner edges of the labia.

When vaginal and vulvar cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.


Who gets vaginal and vulvar cancers?

While all women are at risk for these cancers, few will get them. Vaginal and vulvar cancers are very rare. Together, they account for 6-7 percent of all gynecologic cancers diagnosed in the U.S., with an estimated 1,300 women diagnosed with vaginal cancer and 4,900 women with vulvar cancer each year.


Are there tests that can find vaginal and vulvar cancers early?

The best ways to find vaginal and vulvar cancers early are to get regular checkups and to see a doctor if you have any signs or symptoms, such as lumps or changes in the vagina or vulva. The doctor may perform tests or other procedures to find out what is causing these symptoms.

Your doctor also may recommend more follow-up tests or more frequent exams to check for vaginal or vulvar cancers if you have had abnormal Pap test results or a history of cervical cancer. These things may place you at a higher risk of getting HPV-associated cancers, like vaginal, vulvar, and cervical cancers.

It is important to note that the Pap test does not screen for vaginal and vulvar cancers. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.


What are the signs and symptoms of vaginal and vulvar cancers?

Most vaginal cancers do not cause signs or symptoms early on. When vaginal cancer does cause symptoms, they may include:

• Vaginal discharge or bleeding that is not normal for you. The bleeding may be abnormal because of how heavy it is, or when it happens, such as bleeding after you have gone through menopause; bleeding between periods; or any other bleeding that is longer or heavier than is normal for you.

• A change in bathroom habits, such as having blood in the stool or urine; having more frequent or urgent need to urinate; or feeling constipated.

Vulvar cancers often cause signs or symptoms including one or more of the following:

• Itching, burning, pain or tenderness on the vulva that does not go away.

• Changes in vulva skin color, where it is redder or whiter than normal for you.

• Changes on the vulva skin, such as a rash, warts, sores, lumps or ulcers.

Pay attention to your body, and know what is normal for you. If you have vaginal bleeding that is not normal for you, see a doctor right away. If you have any of the other signs that may be associated with vaginal or vulvar cancer, and they last for two weeks or longer, see a doctor. These symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see your doctor.


Can the HPV vaccine prevent vaginal and vulvar cancers?

Many vaginal and vulvar cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), a common virus that is passed from one person to another during sex.

There is a vaccine that protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until age 26. The vaccine is given in a series of either two or three shots, depending on age. If you or someone you care about is in this age range, talk with a doctor or other health professional about it.


What raises a woman’s chance of getting vaginal or vulvar cancer?

There is no way to know for sure if you will get vaginal or vulvar cancer. Some women get these cancers without being at high risk.

However, the following factors may increase a woman’s risk for vaginal or vulvar cancer:

Having HPV.

Having had cervical precancer or cervical cancer.

Having a condition (such as HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS) that makes it hard for your body to fight off health problems.

Smoking.

Having ongoing vulvar itching or burning.

If one or more of these things is true for you, it does not mean you will get vaginal or vulvar cancer. But you should speak with your doctor to see if he or she recommends more frequent exams.


How can I prevent vaginal and vulvar cancers?

Get the HPV vaccine. It protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. If you are between the ages of 9 and 26, talk to your doctor about the HPV vaccine.

Take steps to reduce your risk of getting HPV or HIV, such as avoiding sex or limiting your number of sexual partners.

Don’t smoke


What should I do if my doctor says I have vaginal or vulvar cancer?

If your doctor says that you have vaginal or vulvar cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers like these. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.

Source: CDC.ORG

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