Gynecologic cancers affect your reproductive organs, including your ovaries, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, and vulva. Gynecologic cancers are the fourth most common type of cancer in women and they affect approximately 1 in 20 women.
The doctors at Capital Women's Care offer the latest information, technology, and support to help diagnose and treat gynecologic cancers. We take special pride in being part of your team to treat and overcome cancer.
Four things you can do to maintain your gynecologic health:
Cancer of the cervix occurs when the cells that line your cervix change. Malignant (cancer) cells in your cervix can invade and destroy healthy cervical tissues. They can also spread into the tissue next to the cervix or travel to other parts of your body.
Another type of change that may occur in your cervix is called dysplasia. These cells are known as precancerous cells because they have been shown to turn into cancer over time. In most women, the change in cervical cells from normal to dysplastic to cancer takes place over several years. If detected early, cure rates for cancer of the cervix can be as high as 90%.
A very common infection of the cervix called the human papillomavirus (HPV) is linked to almost all dysplastic changes and cervical cancers. PAP tests, and for some women an HPV test, can help detect this virus and the cell changes it causes. There is also an HPV vaccine available that protects you against the two types of HPV that cause the most cases of cervical cancer.
Cancer of the cervix is found most often in women older than 40, but it can occur at any age. This type of cancer rarely occurs in women younger than 21. Your risk for cervical cancer depends on your sexual history, your immune system, your overall health, and your lifestyle. This is because cancer of the cervix is linked with HPV, which is often caused by sexually transmitted diseases (STDs).
Dysplasia and cancer of the cervix often have no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, the first signs may be bleeding, spotting, or watery discharge from the vagina. Bleeding may be heavier during your period or may occur after sex. See your doctor immediately if you have any of these symptoms.
Cancer of the uterus affects the muscle and the lining, or endometrium, of the uterus. Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States -- about 2 or 3 women out of every 100 women develop this type of cancer.
Endometrial cancer is rare in women younger than 40 years old. It most often occurs in women between the ages of 60 and 75 years. Women are at an increased risk for uterine cancer if they:
The key to finding endometrial cancer early is being alert to its symptoms. Abnormal bleeding, spotting, and new discharge from your vagina are all symptoms of endometrial cancer. These symptoms may be consistent or come and go. In any case, you should talk with your doctor if any of these symptoms occur.
Fallopian tube cancer is an abnormal growth of malignant cells in one or both of your fallopian tubes. Primary fallopian tube cancer is the most rare of all gynecologic cancers.
The peak incidence of fallopian tube cancer is in women between 60 and 64 years of age; however, it can continue to occur in women up to their mid-80s. Risk factors for this type of cancer are not very well understood. Though there is a higher incidence of fallopian tube cancer among Caucasian women than among Black women.
The most common symptoms of fallopian tube cancer are unexplained vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain. As a general rule, any vaginal bleeding in post-menopausal women should be quickly and carefully evaluated.
Cancer of the ovary is a disease that affects one or both ovaries. Epithelial cancers are the most common type of ovarian cancer; almost 90% of all ovarian cancers are this type. Most women who get this type of cancer are over 40 years old. Germ cell tumors and sex cord-stromal tumors account for the remaining ovarian cancers. These two types of cancer generally occur in women under age 40.
Women of any age can have cancer of the ovary, but the risk increases with age. Ovarian cancer occurs most often in women between 50 and 75 years of age. It is less common in women under 40, and more common in Caucasian women.
Women who have had several children are less likely to get ovarian cancer, as are women who have used or are now using oral contraceptives. Risk factors include:
Cancer of the ovary often does not cause any symptoms in its early stages. Even at later stages, there are few symptoms of the disease. Warning signs include:
The key to fighting ovarian cancer is finding it early. Be alert to changes in your body and discuss them with your doctor. These changes could be as simple as an unexplained increase in your waistline or indigestion that seems to have no cause and does not respond to medicine.
Cancer of the vulva or vagina is rare, but it does occur. Most cancers of the vulva and vagina are a type of skin cancer. In their earliest form, they are precancerous. In later stages, changes in the cells of the vulva and vagina can become cancerous and spread to other parts of the body. If these cancers are found and treated early, the cure rate is better than 90%.
One of the best ways to find vulvar and vaginal cancer early is by doing periodic self-exams of these areas. Look for any signs of redness, swelling, blisters, bumps, or other changes in the skin tone or color. Report these changes to your doctor.
Women of any age can have cancer of the vulva or vagina; however, invasive cancers of this area most often occur in women older than 60 years of age. Some types of vulvar and vaginal cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
You may be at risk for vaginal cancer if you were born between 1938 and 1971 and your mother took DES when she was pregnant with you. DES was prescribed during this time to help prevent miscarriages.
Vulvar cancers most often occur in women older than 60. Risk factors for this type of cancer include:
Unlike many gynecologic cancers, cancers of the vulva and vagina may have early warning signs. If you are alert to these changes, you may find cancer at a stage at which it is easy to treat.
The most common symptom of cancer of the vulva is itching in this area. Other symptoms of vulvar cancer include:
The most common symptom of cancer of the vagina is bleeding after sexual intercourse. There may also be a lump in the vagina, a watery discharge, or pain during sex. Any of the symptoms of vulvar and vaginal cancer should be checked by your doctor.