What Every Women Should Know

Gynecologic cancer is a group of cancers that affect the tissue and organs of the female reproductive system. There are five main types of gynecologic cancers–each named after the organ it originated in–which include:  

  1. Ovarian cancer: a type of cancer that begins in the ovaries, which are the female reproductive glands located on each side of the uterus
  2. Cervical cancer: cancer that begins in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus (the organ where a fetus grows) that leads to the vagina (birth canal)
  3. Endometrial (Uterine) cancer: a type of cancer that begins in the uterus, which is the hollow, pear-shaped pelvic organ in women where fetal development occurs
  4. Vulvar cancer:is a type of cancer that occurs on the vulva, the external part of the female genitals, including the clitoris, the vaginal lips, the opening to the vagina, and the surrounding skin and tissue
  5. Vaginal cancer: cancer that begins in the vagina, which is the channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body
Risk factors that women may have control over and are known to increase a woman’s chance of developing a gynecologic cancer include:

  • Getting infected with Human papillomavirus (HPV)

  • Tobacco use

  • Long-term use of oral contraceptives (birth control pills)

  • Being overweight or obese

  • Eating a diet lacking in proper nutrition

  • Exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES), a synthetic estrogen given during pregnancy, prior to the year 1970, to prevent miscarriage

  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV/AIDS) infection

Some important things you may consider doing to reduce your risk or prevent gynecologic cancer may include:

  • Getting the HPV vaccine
  • Quitting smoking
  • Eating healthier and exercising regularly
  • Limiting the number of sexual partners you have
  • Using latex condoms during sex

Other risk factors that are out of a woman’s control may include:

  • Age: the older you are, the higher the risk.
  • Race: Caucasian and Hispanic women have a higher chance of a diagnosis.
  • Family history: not all gynecologic cancers have hereditary genes. Meet with the doctors in the Compass Oncology Genetic Risk Evaluation and Testing program to discuss your family history of cancer and if your genetics may be a risk factor for gynecologic cancers

Understanding the symptoms of gynecologic cancer can help you be aware of early warning signs. Below is a broad list that covers some symptoms you should be aware of:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Bloating and/or feeling of fullness
  • Frequent or urgent bowel changes

Again, this is just a broad list of common symptoms. The American Cancer Society has additional information regarding specific symptoms related to ovarian cancer, cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, vulvar cancer, and vaginal cancer

Your gynecologic oncologist begins with a variety of tests and exams to determine what type of cancer you have and the best way to treat it. 

Sanford Health offers diagnostic and treatment services including:

  • Pelvic exams
  • Ultrasound Imaging tests
  • Lab tests
  • Radiation therapy
  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Surgery

You are the most important member of your reproductive cancer care team. We will work with you to create treatments that meet your needs and address your concerns. 

A person who becomes sexually active at a young age or has sex with many partners has a greater risk of getting an infection. Having sex with someone who has had many partners in the past can also increase the risk. That’s why it is important for sexual partners to discuss their sexual history and any sexually transmitted diseases they may have or have had. There is no guaranteed protection against getting genital HPV for people who are sexually active because skin-to-skin contact with an infected person can spread it. Using condoms during sex does not prevent HPV infection, although condoms can prevent other sexually transmitted diseases, such as HIV.

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