Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month: What Women Should Know
September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month with an estimated 98,000 women diagnosed this year alone and 30,000 deaths from the disease. The big takeaway is that women with reproductive organs can develop a gynecologic cancer. But what is it? And how do you know if you are at risk?
Gynecologic cancer includes types of cancer that occur in female reproductive organs including cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, uterine or endometrial cancer, vaginal cancer and ovarian cancer. Symptoms vary depending on the type, but too often, there are no symptoms in gynecologic cancer. Although there is a screening test for cervical cancer—a Pap smear test—there is no test for other gynecologic cancers.
“Pay attention to your body. Unusual changes like abnormal bleeding or pelvic pressure that last more than a couple of weeks should be investigated,” said Chinelo Echeazu, MD at Memorial Physician Services – Women’s Health. “In the majority of cases, it’s not cancer, but you should find out what is causing your symptoms.”
Depending on age and medical history, you will need a Pap smear test every one to three years, but Echeazu recommends an annual women’s wellness exam regardless.
“The best way to reduce your risk of gynecologic cancer is to get your recommended screenings and check-ups, and to pay attention to the warning signs,” said Echeazu.
- Cervical Cancer
Occurs when cells both inside and outside of the cervix mutate. This cancer is preventable through annual screenings and pelvic exams. Some types of this cancer are also preventable with the HPV vaccine. Symptoms: abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge.
- Ovarian Cancer
Can occur in stromal (female hormone) cells, germ cells (cells that produce eggs) or epithelia (cells that line the ovaries and fallopian tubes). Often, ovarian cancer is not discovered until the later stages, but the BRCA gene test can identify hereditary genes for some cancers based on family history. Symptoms: abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, feeling full too quickly, pelvic pain or pressure, frequent urination or constipation, bloating, and abdominal or back pain.
- Uterine or Endometrial Cancer
This cancer is caused by a rapid growth on the lining of the uterus. Symptoms: abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, and pelvic pain or pressure.
- Vulvar Cancer
Occurs on the outside of the genitalia on the labia. The HPV vaccine can reduce your risk. Symptoms: itching, burning, pain and tenderness of the vulva, and changes in the skin or color of the vulva including rash, shores or warts.
- Vaginal Cancer
Occurs on the lining of the vagina. The HPV vaccine lowers your risk of developing vaginal cancer. Symptoms: abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, and frequent urination or constipation.
Are you concerned about gynecologic cancer?
Speak with your primary care provider or gynecologist.
- Memorial Physician Services in Springfield, Jacksonville, Lincoln and Taylorville, Illinois
- DMH Medical Group in Decatur, Illinois