Early Diagnosis of Gynecologic Cancers Saves Lives

How much do you know about gynecologic cancers? All women are at risk and the risk increases with age. According to estimates from the American Cancer Society, approximately 22,280 women in the U.S. will be newly diagnosed with gynecologic cancer in 2016 and about 14,240 will die. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has more alarming statistics, saying that, on average, about 71,500 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer annually. Detecting the disease early significantly increases survival rates. Getting a late diagnosis can end in tragedy, as it did in the life of Robin Babbini of California, who was diagnosed at 17 and died of ovarian cancer at age 20. There are many tales of courageous girls and women of all ages who have been diagnosed with the disease, and they all hope information about gynecologic cancers will be widely shared as a warning to women everywhere.

What is Gynecologic Cancer?
Gynecologic cancers all originate in the female reproductive organs, with uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells occurring in the ovaries, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, vulva and/or vagina. Gynecologic cancers all begin in a woman’s pelvic area. Treatment is most effective when the disease is detected early.

Types of Gynecologic Cancer and their Symptoms
According to the CDC, there are five distinctly different types of gynecologic cancers. Cancer is always named for the body part where it starts. In all cases, early treatment is most effective. Each is listed below, with a brief summary about the disease as well as related signs and symptoms.

Cervical Cancer – In the majority of Western countries, cervical cancer is highly preventable because screening tests are routine. The Pap test has cut the death rate of women with cervical cancer by more than 70 percent, according to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.

No symptoms may be evident in the early stage of cervical cancer. In advanced stages, there may be discharge or bleeding that is abnormal for you. This could include bleeding after sex.

Ovarian Cancer – Ovarian cancer, which begins in the ovaries, causes more fatalities than any other type of gynecologic cancer.

A woman who has ovarian cancer may experience one or more
of the following signs and symptoms:

  • Bleeding or vaginal discharge that is not normal for you.

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain.

  • Back pain.

  • Bloating, which is when the pelvic area swells or feels full.

  • Feeling full while eating.

  • Experiencing a change in bathroom habits, such as having diarrhea or needing to urinate very often.

Uterine Cancer – Endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer. It forms in the endometrial lining of your uterus.

Uterine cancer can cause bleeding or vaginal discharge that is not normal for you. Other symptoms are pain or pressure in the pelvis. A woman experiencing bleeding after having gone through menopause should see a doctor as soon as possible.

Vaginal Cancer – Most vaginal cancers do not cause any signs or symptoms. If there are symptoms, they may include the following:

Bleeding or vaginal discharge that is not normal for you. A change in bathroom habits, such as blood in the urine or stool, feeling constipated, or going to the bathroom more frequently than usual.

Vulvar Cancer – Many women with vulvar cancer experience various signs and symptoms, which may include:

  • Lumps, sores or ulcers on the vulva that do not go away.

  • Burning, itching, or bleeding on the vulva that persists.

  • Pelvic pain, particularly when urinating or having sex.

  • Skin changes in the vulva, including what may look like a rash or warts.

  • Changes in the skin color of the vulva, so that it is whiter orredder than normal for you.

How to Reduce Risk Factors
Cervical cancer may be prevented by routinely having Pap tests and the human papillomavirus (HPV) test. Two HPV vaccines can protect females against the types of HPV that cause the most vaginal, cervical, and vulvar cancers. Your risk for cervical cancer can also be lowered if you:

  • Use condoms during sex,

  • Limit your number of sexual partners, and

  • Do not smoke.

You may lower your risk of getting ovarian cancer by:

  • Having used birth control pills.

  • Having had a hysterectomy, both ovaries removed, or a tubal ligation.

  • Having given birth.

  • Breastfeeding.

There is no known method of preventing uterine cancer, but the following may reduce the risk of contracting the disease:

  • Use birth control pills.

  • Live a physically active lifestyle.

  • Maintain a healthy weight.

  • If you are taking estrogen, also take progesterone.

The best way to prevent vaginal and vulvar cancers is to be vaccinated against the types of HPV that most frequently cause vaginal, vulvar, and cervical cancers. It is administered in three shots. The recommended ages for males and females to have HPV vaccines are 11 and 12. It is recommended that girls and women between ages 13 through 26 and boys and men between ages 13 through 21 get the vaccine, if the shots were not given when younger.

Types of Treatment for Gynecologic Cancers
Treatments for gynecologic cancers differ according to the kind of cancer and how far it has spread. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation are the types of treatment used for gynecologic cancers. In surgeries, cancer tissues are removed. Chemotherapy is used to shrink or kill the cancer. It can be administered as pills or through the veins or in both ways. Radiation is similar to x-rays, being high-energy rays meant to kill the cancer.

Battling gynecologic cancer is not easy. Tragically, far too many girls and women lose the battle, leaving their families behind. Although HPV vaccinations have been rather controversial in recent years, it is up to parents to decide to vaccinate their 11  and 12-year-old sons and daughters. Routine screenings are the best approach to detecting gynecologic cancers – early.

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