Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. The five gynecologic cancers begin in different places within a woman’s pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones. Each gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs and symptoms, different risk factors, and different prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and risk increases with age. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.
Five main types of cancer affect a woman’s reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. As a group, they are referred to as gynecologic cancer.
The signs of gynecologic cancers can be vague and similar to those of other conditions.That’s why it’s important to know what to look for. So, no matter how young or old you are, it’s important to know what to look for. That way, if these symptoms do appear, you can alert your doctor right away. After all, recognizing the symptoms may increase your odds of finding cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Below are gynecologic cancer symptoms that every woman should be on the lookout for.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding: More than 90% of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer experience irregular bleeding. If you have already undergone menopause, any bleeding — spotting included — should be evaluated. Haven’t gone through menopause yet? See your doctor if you experience bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding or bleeding during sex.
- Unexplained weight loss: If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight by exercising and making healthier food choices can actually help curb your cancer risks. But if you suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits, talk to your doctor.
- Vaginal discharge colored with blood: Bloody, dark or smelly discharge is usually a sign of infection. But sometimes, it’s a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer.
- Constant fatigue.:A busy week can wear anyone out. But in most cases, a little rest should cure your fatigue. If fatigue is interfering with your work or leisure activities, stop blaming your hectic life and see your doctor.
- Swollen leg: Does one of your legs look or feel swollen for no apparent reason? This may be a sign of cervical cancer. Typically, though, a swollen leg isn’t a sign of cancer unless you also have pain, discharge or other cervical cancer symptoms.
- Loss of appetite or feeling full all the time: Never hungry anymore? Or constantly feeling full? These appetite changes may be symptoms of ovarian cancer.
- Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area: Ongoing abdominal pain or discomfort — including gas, indigestion, pressure, bloating and cramps — can signal ovarian cancer. And, constant pelvic pain or pressure can be a sign of endometrial cancer.
- A bloated belly: It’s common to feel bloated after eating or drinking a lot, especially during your menstrual cycle. But if you feel bloated for more than two weeks or after your period ends, this could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
- Constantly needing bathroom breaks: Suddenly need to use the bathroom all the time or feel constant pressure on your bladder? Unless you’ve started drinking more liquids or you’re pregnant, this may be a sign of cancer. Take note if you also feel full, have abdominal pain and experience bloating.
- Persistent indigestion or nausea: Occasionally, persistent indigestion or nausea can signal gynecologic cancers. Play it safe, and see your doctor if you feel queasy more often than usual.
Remember, having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if they last two weeks or longer, see your doctor to get yourself checked out. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
There are usually no symptoms or signs of early cervical cancer. The best ways to detect early stages of cervical cancer are regular pelvic exams and Pap tests.
Some protective measures may reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that has screening tests. When detected early, treatment is usually successful. There are usually no symptoms or signs of early cervical cancer. The best ways to detect early stages of cervical cancer are regular pelvic exams and Pap tests. Some protective measures may reduce your risk of developing cervical cancer.
Scheduled screening procedures can help detect gynecologic cancer, including cervical cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer, early. There are three recommended types of gynecologic cancer screenings:
- A pap smear can detect cervical and uterine cancers. It is recommended to begin testing every three years starting at age 21.
- A pelvic exam examines the vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and rectum. Pelvic exams should be done yearly, beginning at 21 and can help detect abnormalities of the female reproductive system.
- An endometrial tissue sample checks for abnormal cells or signs of uterine cancer. This test can be done for women with a high risk for endometrial cancer due to an inherited susceptibility or when there are symptoms that need to be evaluated.
Although many of the symptoms associated with gynecologic cancers discussed above may seem common and often times are due to other causes, it is important to be in tune with your body and pay attention to any changes. If you notice new symptoms that are occurring almost daily for more than a few weeks this can be a sign of gynecologic cancer. Do not hesitate – you should seek medical attention promptly.
Nearly one in twenty women are affected by gynecologic cancer. With more than 100 different types of Human Papillomavirus HPV is responsible for almost all cases of cervical cancer and some vaginal and vulvar cancers – 80 percent of women will get an infection in their lifetime. Be proactive – get regular Pap tests to screen for the HPV virus. Pap tests are very effective in prevention and early detection of certain gynecologic cancers. If possible get vaccinated against HPV and continue to learn and be aware gynecological cancers so that together we can lower the number of women diagnosed each year.