Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman's reproductive organs. There are five main types of gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar. As with most cancers, prevention and early detection are key for most effective treatment. Treatment options vary by cancer, but may include minimally-invasive surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy or other procedures.
Gynecologic cancers affect women of all ages. If you are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, you may benefit from seeing a gynecologic oncologist who is trained in treatment of these cancers, such as Dr. Wafic ElMasri, gynecologic cancer specialist at Community Health Network. Dr. ElMasri specializes in treatment of gynecologic cancers through minimally-invasive surgery.
Most cervical cancers begin in the cells lining the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. Precancerous conditions of the cervix are identified as cells that appear to be abnormal, but are not cancerous at the present time. However, the appearance of these abnormal cells may be the first evidence of cancer that develops years later.
Although cervical cancers start from cells with precancerous changes (precancers), only some of the women with precancers of the cervix will develop cancer. Early detection of cervical problems is the best way to prevent cervical cancer. Routine, annual pelvic examinations and Pap tests can detect precancerous conditions that often can be treated before cancer develops. Learn more about cervical cancer >>
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus. There are three types of ovarian tumors, named for the tissue in which they are found: epithelial, germ and stromal. Although it is the eighth most common cancer in women, the cause of ovarian cancer is unknown. Women at higher risk for ovarian cancer may have had early menarche or late menopause, age (50+), hormone replacement therapy, infertility, personal history of other cancers, children after age 30, among other risk factors.
Let your doctor know if you experience any of these common symptoms of ovarian cancer: discomfort in lower abdomen, weight loss, abnormal bowel movement or urination, vaginal bleeding, or shortness of breath. Preventive measures for ovarian cancer include a healthy diet, birth control pills, pregnancy and breastfeeding, and surgical removal of reproductive organs. Learn more about ovarian cancer >>
Uterine cancer begins in the uterus, or womb, the pear-shaped organ in a woman's lower abdomen where a baby grows during pregnancy. Occuring most often after menopause, uterine cancer is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer. There is no way to prevent uterine cancer, but risk may be lower in women who use birth control pills, maintain a healthy and active lifestyle, and take progesterone during hormone replacement therapy.
Routine testing is not recommended for uterine cancer. Signs and symptoms of uterine cancer may include abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, difficulty urinating, and painful intercourse. When symptoms are present, your doctor may recommend a biopsy or ultrasound for further testing. Learn more about uterine cancer >>
Endometrial cancer is the most common uterine cancer and is highly curable when detected early. It occurs in the lining of the uterus, or endometrium. Risk factors for endometrial cancer include early menarche or late menopause, infertility, never having children, and obesity.
Symptoms of endometrial cancer include abnormal bleeding, difficult or painful urination, pain during intercourse, pain in the pelvic area and weight loss. Diagnosis of endometrial cancer may involve a pelvic exam, Pap smear testing, biopsy, dilation and curettage (D&C) or ultrasound. Learn more about endometrial cancer >>
Vaginal and vulvar cancer
Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, the hollow tube below the uterus that leads outside the body, also known as the birth canal. Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs. It most often occurs on the inner edges of the labia. Vaginal and vulvar cancers are the rarest of the gynecologic cancers. Risk factors for vaginal or vulvar cancer include having HPV, cervical precancer or cancer, immune system deficiencies, chronic vulvar itching or burning, and smoking.
If you have the following symptoms, see your doctor right away: abnormal discharge or bleeding, change in bathroom habits, pelvic or abdominal pain during intercourse, skin/color changes on the vulva, severe itching/burning/bleeding that does not go away, sores/lumps/ulcers that do not go away.
A pelvic exam during a regular checkup may help detect these cancers early (Pap smears do not screen for vaginal or vulvar cancers). The HPV vaccine protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Talk to your doctor about whether the HPV vaccine is appropriate for you or someone you know.