Gynecologic Cancers

When thinking about cancer and cancer related screenings, it’s easy to feel a bit anxious or stressed. These common feelings sometimes cause women to delay or avoid engaging in care, but when gynecological cancers are found early, treatment is often shorter in duration, causes less side effects, and increases your chances for long-term health.

Gynecologic Cancers

When thinking about cancer and cancer related screenings, it’s easy to feel a bit anxious or stressed. These common feelings sometimes cause women to delay or avoid engaging in care, but when gynecological cancers are found early, treatment is often shorter in duration, causes less side effects, and increases your chances for long-term health.

Early Detection Goes a Long Way

What are gynecological cancers?

Gynecological cancers, a group of cancers that begin in a woman’s reproductive organs, include cervical, ovarian, uterine, endometrial, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Each type has unique risk factors, symptoms, and treatments, but as a combined group, they’re the fourth most prevalent form of cancer among American women.

Screening, Symptoms, and Risk Factors

While some gynecological cancers do not have standard screening tests, knowing what symptoms to look for and assessing your personal risk can help you proactively protect your health.

Cervical Cancer

Screening: A pap smear is the most recognized screening tool to test for cell abnormalities that can lead to cancer of the cervix — the opening between your vagina and your uterus.

Speak to your provider to determine how often you will need to have a pap test; but no matter how often your provider recommends you have a pap smear, all women should have an annual pelvic exam to visually monitor the health of your cervix, uterus, and fallopian tubes.

Possible symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding between periods, after intercourse, or after menopause
  • Watery, bloody vaginal discharge; it may have a foul odor
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse

Risk factors: 

  • HPV, HIV, or Chlamydia infection
  • Lowered immune function
  • Family history of cervical cancer
  • Smoking
  • Having more than 3 children
  • High number of sexual partners
  • First had sex under the age of 18

Ovarian Cancer

Screening: Unfortunately, there are no simple screening tests for ovarian cancer. However, it’s crucial to speak to your provider if you have a family history of ovarian cancer or are any of the experiencing symptoms below.

They may recommend monitoring or diagnostic tests, including blood tests or a transvaginal ultrasound.

Possible symptoms:

  • Abnormal discharge or vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pressure or pain
  • Feeling full very quickly
  • Unexplained abdominal or back pain
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Bloating, swelling of legs, or unexplained weight changes

Risk factors:

  • Aging
  • Obesity
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Genetic abnormality (BRCA1, BRCA2 or Lynch Syndrome)
  • Eastern European or Ashkenazi Jewish background
  • Endometriosis
  • Smoking/alcohol use
  • Hormone therapy use after menopause
  • Breast, colon, or uterine cancer diagnosis
  • Not having children or a full-term pregnancy

Vaginal Cancer

Screening: An annual pelvic exam helps your provider to examine the health of your vagina — so it’s important to see your OBGYN even if you’re not due for a pap smear.

Possible symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • A mass or lump in the vagina
  • Painful urination

Risk factors:

  • Older than 60 years of age
  • Previous hysterectomy
  • Smoking
  • HPV or HIV infection
  • Exposure to DES while in the womb
  • Past or current cervical cancer/pre cancer diagnosis
  • Lowered immune function

Uterine Cancer

Screening: Unfortunately there are no standard screening tools available for cancer of the uterus — the muscular organ also known as the womb — so it’s crucial to speak with your provider if you experience any of the symptoms below.

Possible symptoms:

  • Heavy or irregular vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain during intercourse

Risk factors:

  • Over 50 years of age
  • Family history of uterine, colon, or cervical cancer
  • Taking Tamoxifen (for breast cancer)
  • Hormone replacement using only estrogen
  • Obesity

Endometrial Cancer

Screening: There aren’t any standard screening tools for cancer of the endometrium — the lining of your uterus— so it’s crucial to speak with your provider if you experience any of the symptoms below.

Possible symptoms:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pelvic pain
  • A mass in your pelvic area
  • Unexplained weight loss

Risk factors:

  • Obesity
  • Imbalanced hormone levels: PCOS, taking estrogen after menopause, birth control pills, or tamoxifen can all affect hormone levels.
  • Over 60 years of age or past menopause
  • Family history of endometrial or colorectal cancer
  • Past breast or ovarian cancer diagnosis
  • Endometrial hyperplasia
  • Radiation therapy to the pelvis to treat other types of cancer

Vulvar Cancer

Screening: Your annual pelvic exam helps your provider examine the health of your vulva —  the outer part of your vagina — even during the visits you do not need to have a pap smear.

Possible symptoms:

  • Itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva that does not go away
  • Changes in the color of the skin of the vulva
  • Rash or wart-like symptoms on your vulva
  • Lumps, sores or ulcers on the vulva that do not go away
  • Pelvic pain, especially when you urinate or have sex

Risk factors:

  • Natural aging
  • Smoking
  • HPV or HIV infection
  • Melanoma diagnosis or atypical moles
  • Lichen sclerosus disorder diagnosis
  • Current or past cervical cancer or precancer diagnosis
  • Lowered immune function

Steps You Can Take to Lower Your Risk

While there’s no sure way to prevent gynecological cancers, these can help you lower your risk:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Know your family history; use our genetic testing tool and discuss your results with your provider
  • Get support to stop smoking
  • Lower your alcohol intake
  • Care for your immune system with adequate sleep, nutrition, and exercise
  • Practice safe sex
  • Breastfeed your baby

Empowered and Supportive Care

At Seven Hills, we believe meaningful healthcare empowers you to proactively care for your health. Reach out to schedule your consultation at one of our 15 convenient locations — you’re worth it.

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