September 09, 2022
Did you know that every five minutes, a woman is diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and more than 33,000 will die from it this year?
September is gynecological cancer awareness month, a time to bring awareness to all gynecological cancers – cervical, ovarian, uterine/endometrial, vaginal and vulvar cancer.
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, the part of the uterus or womb that opens to the vagina. It is the part of the uterus that dilates and opens fully to allow a baby to pass into the birth canal.
“Regular pap smears and HPV testing are an important part in preventing cervical cancer,” said Dr. Paige Gernt, OB/GYN. “Cervical cancer usually affects women between ages 30 and 55, but younger and older women are also at risk if they have not had a regular screening. Almost all cervical cancer is caused by a persistent infection with high-risk type human papillomavirus, or HPV. This is why screenings are so important.”
Symptoms include excessive discharge and abnormal bleeding between periods and bleeding after menopause. It usually affects women between ages 30 and 55, but younger and older women are also at risk if they have not had regular screening.
One in 71 women will develop ovarian cancer in her lifetime, while only 15 percent of all ovarian cancer cases are detected at the earliest, most curable stage. This is the seventh most common cancer among women.
Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer (cancer that originates from the lining of the abdomen called the peritoneum) have a similar type of growth and similar treatments used. It is possible to have primary peritoneal cancer even with the absence of ovaries.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer includes bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, urinary symptoms – urgency or frequency, and irregular bleeding.
There is currently no screening test recommended for ovarian cancer for the general population, as the Pap test only screens for cervical cancer, not ovarian cancer.
The risk of ovarian cancer increases with age, especially around the time of menopause. A family history of ovarian cancer, fallopian tube cancer, primary peritoneal cancer or premenopausal breast cancer, or a personal history of premenopausal breast cancer, place women at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.
Infertility and not bearing children are risk factors, whereas pregnancy, breastfeeding and the use of birth control pills decrease risk. Women with surgery to remove tubes or tubal ligation also have decreased risk.
Other factors that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer include obesity, less physical activity and endometriosis.
Endometrial (uterine) cancer
This is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States and the fourth most common cancer in women.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding. Younger women should report irregular or heavy vaginal bleeding. Absent or rare periods can also be a symptom.
Bleeding after menopause. Even brown spotting or a single spot of blood from the vagina is abnormal after menopause and should lead to a prompt gynecologic evaluation.
There is no screening test for endometrial cancer.
Most vaginal cancers occur in the lining of the vagina and is typically diagnosed in older women.
It also may not cause symptoms in its earliest stage. Some vaginal cancers can be related to HPV infections.
Symptoms include unusual bleeding between periods or after menopause, bleeding after vaginal sex or intercourse, vaginal, pelvic, buttock or back pain, water or unusual discharge that can be clear, brown or bloody, lump or mass in the vagina and problems with urination or bowel movements.
Many precancerous conditions and early vaginal cancers can be detected through routine pelvic exams and Pap tests.
Vulvar cancer can occur in young women as well as older women.
Women in their 70s, 80s and 90s should request an exam and care for symptoms such as burning, itching or bleeding.
Symptoms are often confused with common infections such as yeast infections. A pelvic exam with visual inspection can lead to a diagnosis.
Vulvar cancer is very uncommon but can be cured if caught early.
“Annual visits to the gynecologist can prevent issues down the road,” said Paul Korth, Cookeville Regional CEO. “We have a wonderful group of specialists here who can help you if you need to get caught up on screenings.”
Visit crmchealth.org and use our “find a doctor” feature to locate a gynecologist.
Visit foundationforwomenscancer.org to find out more about gynecological cancers.