Next month, the media will be buzzing with news and information about breast cancer. But did you know each year in the United States approximately 71,500 women are diagnosed with gynecological cancers and 26,500 women die from it? This month is gynecological cancer awareness month and, though often overshadowed by fears of breast cancer, it’s important to know the symptoms of gynecological cancers because when caught early, treatment is more likely to be successful. With some focusing on less frequent pap smears (according to new guidelines), every women should have a gynecological exam each year. It can be done along with a routine physical or if there are new and unexpected problems.
While gynecological cancers are often discussed as a group, each has its own set of symptoms. Here’s a brief overview of each:
Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that can be prevented by having human papilloma virus (HPV) immunization as a young women, markedly reducing the risk, screening tests (like pap smears or HPV testing) routinely and following up, as necessary particularly if any abnormality is found. It’s also highly curable when found and treated early.
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Excessive discharge and abnormal bleeding between periods
- NOTE: Most women will have no symptoms making vaccination and a regular Pap test plus HPV test, when recommended, key to preventing cervical cancer.
All women are at risk for ovarian cancer, but older women are more likely to get the disease than younger women. About 90 percent of women who get ovarian cancer are older than 40. The greatest number of ovarian cancers occurs in women age 60 and older.
- Abdominal bloating
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full very quickly
- Urinary symptoms – like urgency or frequency without any signs of infection
- NOTE: Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to early detection.
There are two main types of uterine cancer:
Endometrial cancer: The most common type of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer forms in the lining of the uterus, which is called the endometrium. It is much more common in women who are overweight or obese. Diabetes may be a risk as well.
Uterine sarcoma: A rare type of uterine cancer that forms in the muscle or other tissue of the uterus.
When uterine sarcoma is found early, treatment is most effective.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; younger women should note irregular or heavy vaginal bleeding when bleeding or menstrual periods had been normal in the past
- 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.
While vaginal cancer is very rare, all women are at risk. Each year, approximately 1,000 women in the United States get vaginal cancer.
- Pain in your pelvis or abdomen
- Problems with urination or bowel movements
Vulvar cancer is also rare, but all women are at risk. Each year, approximately 3,500 women in the United States get vulvar cancer.
- Pain in your pelvis when you urinate or have sex
- Sores, lumps or ulcers on the vulva that don’t go away
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