Maintaining good health starts with getting regular check ups and knowing what the signs of health issues are. September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Gynecologic cancer includes cervical, uterine, vulvar, vaginal, ovarian, and even Fallopian tube cancer (although it is rare). Treatment is most effective when cancers are found early, so it is important to know the signs and symptoms of these varying diseases.
Early cervical cancer usually has no signs or symptoms, which is why getting regular check ups is so important. This cancer can be identified early on with a pap test. HPV (human papillomavirus) greatly increases the chance of getting cervical cancer. Other signs include vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain.
Uterine cancer (also called endometrial cancer) affects the uterus of a woman. Signs can include abnormal vaginal bleeding, difficulty urinating, pelvic pain, and pain during intercourse. This type of cancer is more common after menopause. You are also at a higher risk if you are obese or took estrogen-only hormone replacement therapy. Treatment options include a hysterectomy, hormone therapy, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy.
Symptoms of cancer on the vulva include persistent itching, pain, or a lump or open sore on the vulva. Treating vulvar cancer usually requires surgery which removes the lump of cancer and a bit of the surrounding area. In some cases, the entire vulva is removed. Risk increases with age, with the average age of diagnosis being 65. HPV also increases your risk of obtaining vulvar cancer.
Cancer from other places in the body can spread to the vagina, or cancer can begin in the vagina (although this is rare). You are at increased risk of vaginal cancer with age, smoking, HIV, and if you have been diagnosed with VAIN (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia). Symptoms include painful urination, unusual vaginal bleeding, watery discharge, a lump in the vagina, or even pelvic pain. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is best to see your doctor. Because symptoms do not always appear, it is important to have routine pelvic exams.
Ovarian cancer in the early stages very rarely causes symptoms and so it can often go unnoticed until it has spread further than just the ovaries. This makes it much more difficult to treat. Symptoms include abdominal bloating or swelling, weight loss, quickly feeling full when eating, or pelvic discomfort. You are at an increased risk of ovarian cancer if you have a family history of it, have used estrogen hormone replacement therapy, or are of older age. Learn more about ovarian cancer in our patient resources.
Symptoms of gynecological cancers do not always make themselves known early on, but these cancers are treated most effectively when caught early. For this reason, it is so important to receive regular checkups and to visit your doctor if you have any concerns. If you have any health questions or need to schedule your next appointment at Cheyenne OBGYN, please contact us.