Our organization hopes to educate women on the signs, symptoms, early detection methods, preventive care, and treatment options associated with gynecological cancers.
Gynecologic cancer is a group of cancers that affect the tissue and organs of the female reproductive system. Approximately 77,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers each year and about 28,000 will die from them. Each type of cancer is named after the organ from which it originates. Types of gynecologic cancer include:
Treatment for gynecologic cancer depends on the type of cancer, stage, and other general health factors. Common methods of treating gynecologic cancer include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgery.
Prevention tactics differ among the types of gynecologic cancer because each specific cancer possesses its own causes and risk factors. There are some common risk factors among gynecologic cancers that can minimize risk of development. To reduce risk of gynecologic cancer, you can reduce the risk of contracting the Human Papillomavirus (HPV).
Reduce Your HPV Risk.
Limiting exposure to the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) may decrease the risk of cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. HPV is a common sexually transmitted virus, that in some cases, when left undetected or untreated, may progress into cervical cancer.
Getting a regular Pap smear is a highly effective way of reducing your risk of cervical cancer. The Pap smear is a simple test that can detect abnormal cervical changes long before they become cancerous. The key to the effectiveness of the Pap smear is having it done regularly. How often a Pap smear is needed varies from woman to woman based on age, previous Pap smear results, and your cervical cancer risk factors. Always consult with your doctor about how often you should be having Pap smears.
Since we know that tobacco use is linked to some types of gynecologic cancer, avoiding the use of tobacco is a good risk reduction strategy. Quitting smoking may reduce your risk of gynecologic cancer as well as many other diseases and conditions.
Human Papillomavirus, more commonly known as HPV, is a viral infection spread through skin to skin sexual contact. HPV is a group of over 100 different viruses, with at least 30 strains known to cause different types of cancer. There is currently no cure for HPV but there are vaccinations. Please consult your physician to see if an HPV vaccination is right for you.
HPV is transmitted by skin to skin contact through vaginal, anal and oral sex with a partner who already has HPV. If infected, signs and symptoms may take weeks, months and even years to appear. Symptoms may never appear.
Symptoms of HPV normally appear in the form a cauliflower like growths called genital warts. These warts may also be flat. They can be found on the inside and the outside of the vagina. These growths may take weeks or even years to show after having sex with an infected partner. Again, they may not appear or show at all.
An HPV test can be done to determine if a person has HPV. Testing samples of cervical cells is an effective way to identify high-risk types of HPVs that may be present. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved an HPV test that can identify 13 of the high-risk types of HPVs associated with the development of cervical cancer. There is currently no test to determine if a man has HPV.
Cervical cancer is a type of cancer that affects a woman’s cervix. The cervix plays a vital role in the female reproductive system, connecting the upper vagina to the uterus. During childbirth, the cervix dilates to allow the passage of a baby from the uterus to the vagina.
The primary risk factor for developing cervical cancer is the Human Papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common sexually transmitted infection that is spread through sexual, skin-to-skin contact. The virus can cause changes in cervical cells that could develop into cervical cancer if left undetected, unmonitored, or untreated.
Cervical cancer is staged using a series of radiologic tests and an examination under anesthesia. The tests include an evaluation of the chest by x-ray or CT scan; an evaluation of the ureters by intravenous pyelogram or CT scan; an evaluation of the rectum by barium enema or by proctoscopy under anesthesia; an evaluation of the bladder by cystoscopy at the time of examination under anesthesia.
At the time of the pelvic exam under anesthesia, if present, a cervical tumor is measured. Surgical staging evaluation of the periaortic lymph nodes is an additional procedure that is considered in selected patients with locally advanced disease. This surgical procedure may help to direct further treatment recommendations.
Stage I: Confined to the cervix
Stage II: Local spread of disease to the upper portion of the vagina or to the parametria
Stage III: Local/regional spread of disease to the lower portion of the vagina, the pelvic side wall, or obstruction of the ureters
Stage IV: Spread to other organs such as the bladder, rectum, or other organs outside of the pelvis
Ovarian cancer is a disease that affects ovarian tissue in the female reproductive system. The ovaries are responsible for producing eggs (ova) and are also a production site for the hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is often referred as the “silent killer” because there are no early warning signs, or symptoms aren’t noticeable until the advanced stages, when it is less treatable. Early ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague and are commonly chalked up to be related to other, less serious conditions. Approximately 21,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer this year. Over 15,500 women will die from it.
In order to determine the stage of the disease, or where ovarian, fallopian tube, and peritoneal cancers have spread, a surgical procedure must be performed. The surgical procedure includes an exploration of the peritoneal cavity, aspiration of fluid from the peritoneal cavity, total hysterectomy, removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries, removal of the omentum, and a lymph node dissection. Additionally, the chest should be evaluated before surgery with a chest x-ray or chest CT scan.
Stage I: Confined to the ovaries
Stage II: Spread of ovarian cancer to other sites in the pelvis
Stage III: Spread beyond the pelvis to other parts of the peritoneal cavity or lymph nodes
Stage IV: Distant spread of disease to locations outside of the peritoneal cavity such as the lungs or to areas deep within the liver. These cancers rarely spread to locations such as the brain or bones.
These symptoms usually do not appear until the disease has progressed and include:
Persistent symptoms that continue for several weeks need to be reported to your doctor. You should not wait to see if symptoms get better or go away on their own. Seeing your doctor early may lead to an earlier diagnosis.
Unfortunately, we cannot pinpoint exactly what causes ovarian cancer, but researchers have identified several known risk factors for it. We know that ovarian cancer most often is diagnosed in women who:
The most common uterine cancers arise from the endometrial lining of the uterine cavity and are known as endometrial cancers. These are usually detected early and generally have good outcomes after appropriate treatment. Most are confined to the uterus. Approximately 20% spread to the lymph nodes or other sites in the pelvis. In Uterine cancer, as with many forms of cancer, knowing what to look for can save your life. When uterine cancer is detected early, it’s highly treatable. Be aware of:
Remember, many women experience these symptoms without developing uterine cancer. Many times, these symptoms are a sign of a less serious issue (like an infection). Your physician can help you determine what may be causing your symptoms.
There are no screening tests for uterine cancers.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding occurs as an early symptom in approximately 80% of patients.
Endometrial sampling either by a biopsy or D & C, a procedure for scraping and collecting tissues, is required for diagnosis of endometrial cancer. A transvaginal ultrasound can measure the thickness of the endometrial lining. If it is thin, then it is unlikely that there is a diagnosis of endometrial cancer. If it is thick, then a sampling must be performed.
Like ovarian cancer, staging for endometrial cancer is surgical. The surgical procedure includes: an exploration of the peritoneal cavity, aspiration of fluid from the peritoneal cavity, total hysterectomy, removal of both fallopian tubes and ovaries, and a lymph node dissection. Additionally, the chest should be evaluated before surgery with a chest x-ray or chest CT scan.
Vaginal Cancer is a rare type of cancer that forms in the vaginal tissue in women. Not to be confused with the vulva, the vagina is the narrow, elastic canal that extends from the cervix to the outside of the body. It is about 2 to 4 inches long. It is also referred to as the birth canal.
Although researchers cannot pinpoint exactly what causes vaginal cancer, they have identified several known risk factors for the disease. A risk factor is something that increases the likelihood that you may develop a disease, but is not a guarantee you will get it. Risk factors for vaginal cancer include:
In the early stages, vaginal cancer does not usually causes any noticeable symptoms. As the disease progresses, symptoms begin to appear. Symptoms of vaginal cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain, a lump, bump, or lesion in the vagina, and pain during sexual intercourse. These symptoms are not exclusive to vaginal cancer; in fact, they are symptoms of other, less serious conditions.
Vulvar cancer is cancer that begins in the tissues of the vulva. The vulva is the external part of the female genitalia, including the labia, clitoris, and vaginal opening. Vulvar cancer most often affects the vaginal lips (the edges of the labia).
Most women with cancer of the vulva are over age 50, with the peak age range being 65-75. However, the disease is becoming more common in women under age 40.
Vulvar cancer represents between five to twelve percent of all invasive gynecologic cancers. There are no screening tests recommended other than self-vulvar exams and regular pelvic exams. Vulvar biopsy of any suspicious vulvar lesion is the main diagnostic test. Women who have constant itching and changes in the color and the way the vulva looks are at higher risk to get cancer of the vulva. It is important for every woman to have an annual pelvic exam and Pap smear, during which your doctor will find any abnormality in color or structure of the vulva.
Early signs of vulvar cancer are difficult to diagnose. Vulvar cancer symptoms, such as redness, itching or tiny bumps, could possibly be mistaken for more common, non-cancerous conditions. Most vulvar cancers are not that common, so many women may not realize that their “common symptoms” are a sign of something more serious. Pelvic exams, pap smears and other gynecological tests help doctors distinguish between non-cancerous conditions and vulvar cancers.
The severity of symptoms most women experience also depends on the type and stage of vulvar cancer. While most women experience a persistent itch, certain vulvar cancers manifest in different ways. For example, vulvar melanoma appears as a darkly pigmented growth, while squamous cell cancers manifest as raw, rough white surfaces. The symptoms tend to be more developed for the more invasive types of vulvar cancers.