Gynecological cancers are cancers that can affect the uterus, ovaries, cervix, vagina, vulva, and fallopian tubes. Symptoms of gynecological cancer include irregular bleeding, pelvic pressure and pain, or bloating.
Uterine cancer is the most common gynecological cancer, followed by ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer respectively.
Gynecological cancers can be diagnosed at any age, but are most common over the age of 50.
Cervical cancer is the most preventable gynecological cancer and the only cancer for which patients can be screened. Most cervical cancers are caused by high risk strains of the human papilloma virus (HPV). HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of cervical cancer by over 80 percent, and is most effective the earlier the series is completed.
Pap smears screen for cervical cancer; this test is completed by taking a sample of cells from the cervix that can be analyzed for precancerous changes and the presence of HPV infection. Having an abnormal pap test does not mean a person will develop cervical cancer, but typically will require more frequent screening. If a person is found to have a high risk of developing cervical cancer, a procedure to remove precancerous tissue can help prevent progression to cancer.
Uterine cancer, the most common gynecological cancer is more common in women over age 60. While there are no screening recommendations for the general population, it is important to speak to your gynecologist about any abnormal bleeding you are experiencing, especially any bleeding after menopause. In addition, knowing your family medical history can help determine risk of uterine cancer. Families with a genetic predisposition to uterine cancer may include multiple members with colon, uterine, ovarian, pancreatic and other gastrointestinal cancers, especially diagnosed younger than age 50. Knowing your family history can determine if you qualify for genetic testing for Lynch Syndrome.
Ovarian cancer is commonly diagnosed at later stages since there is no routine or reliable screening for it. The symptoms of ovarian cancer are also common to many conditions, including bloating, feeling full with small amounts of food, vaginal bleeding, abdominal pain and changes in bathroom habits. Similar to uterine cancer, some people may inherit a gene that increases risk of ovarian cancer, such as Lynch Syndrome. A genetic mutation (change) in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes can also increase risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer. If there are multiple people in your family who have been diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer, you should speak to your doctor to determine if you qualify for genetic testing.
Vaginal cancer (inside) and vulvar cancer (outside) are rare cancers that are also caused by strains of HPV. Symptoms of vaginal cancer in later stages include vaginal bleeding, discharge, bleeding between periods or after menopause, pain or bleeding during sex, or pelvic pain. The symptoms of vulvar cancer include itching or burning of the vulva that does not go away, sores on the vulva, discoloration of the skin or pain during sex. HPV vaccination can reduce the risk of developing vaginal or vulvar cancer.
The best thing you can do to reduce risk of developing gynecological cancers is getting routine screenings, appropriately evaluating symptoms, and discussing family history and other risk factors. It is important to know that having any of the mentioned symptoms does not mean that you have a gynecological cancer, but that you should be evaluated by a licensed clinician.
Here at Kiira we advocate for preventative care, ensure all of our patients feel heard, and that no symptoms are dismissed. Download our mobile app and schedule a virtual appointment. We are here to support you virtually and in person if you are in the LA area.