Noyes News and Events

September 18, 2017

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness

 

September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month.  Every year, 90,000 to 100,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer and almost 30,000 die. Vagina, uterus, cervix, vulva, and ovary – not exactly dinnertime conversation vocabulary.   Nonetheless, these words are particularly important to every woman.  They are body parts just like an arm, leg, shoulder, or knee and need proper medical care and consideration. The female reproductive system is complex.  Being in tune with it and one’s health in general is crucial for overall wellbeing and early diagnosis of cancer should it appear.

There are five major types of gynecologic cancer are:

  • Cervical cancer:  Begins in the cervix, the lower part of the uterus (or womb).

  • Ovarian cancer:  Begins in the ovaries, located on each side of the uterus.

  • Uterine cancer: Begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.  

  • Vaginal cancer:  Begins in the vagina, the hollow tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.  It is also called the birth canal.

  • Vulvar cancer:  Begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs, which includes the inner and outer lips of the vagina, the clitoris, and the opening of the vagina and its glands.

Signs and symptoms of each type of gynecologic cancer vary.  The following is a list of symptoms typically associated with gynecologic cancers:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

  • Feeling full too quickly or difficulty eating

  • Pelvic pain or pressure

  • More frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation  

  • Bloating

  • Abdominal or back pain

  • Itching, burning, pain or tenderness of the vulva

  • Changes in vulva color skin, such a rash, sores, or warts

According to the CDC, there is no way to know which women will get gynecologic cancer.  Each type has unique risk factors.  However, HPV infections that do not go away increase the risk of getting several types of gynecologic cancer.  HPV (human papillomavirus) is a common sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.  Any woman who has ever had sex is at risk for getting HPV.  Women are more likely to contract HPV if they started having sex at a young age or if the woman or her partner have had sex with multiple people.  

There is no known way, however, to prevent gynecologic cancers.  Nonetheless, there are some things your can do to lower your chance of cancer or to catch it early when treatment will be most effective. The CDC recommends the following:

  • Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you.  If you have any abnormal vaginal bleeding, or if you have any other signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you, talk to a doctor right away.

  • Make healthy lifestyle choices.  For overall good health, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables; exercise regularly; maintain a healthy weight; avoid smoking; and practice safe sex.  

  • Know your family health history.  Share it with your doctor.

  • Get the HPV vaccine.  The vaccine is recommended for preteens (both boys and girls) aged 11 to 12 years, but can be given as early as age 9 and until the age of 26.  

  • Get regular Pap tests.  Pap tests (or smears) are one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available.  Pap tests can find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated so that cervical cancer is prevented.  A Pap test can also find cervical cancer early when treatment is most effective. The only cancer the Pap test screens for is cervical cancer.

  • Get the HPV test if your doctor recommends it.

Lorraine Wichtowski is a community health educator at UR Medicine Noyes Health in Dansville, NY.  For article suggestions or questions, contact Lorraine at lwichtowski@noyeshealth.org or 585-335-4327.