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A Q&A on Gynecologic Cancers 

Women and men are different in many ways. Looks, genetic makeup and personality traits are what usually come to mind. These differences extend to certain health issues; namely, there are conditions that only affect a male while some only a female. For example, gynecologic cancers — such as ovarian, cervical and uterine — can only affect those with a female reproductive system. Sadly, cancer can change the lives of many in the blink of an eye. Gynecologic cancers are quite common, so make sure to be aware of risks and symptoms. 

Women and men are different in many ways. Looks, genetic makeup and personality traits are what usually come to mind. These differences extend to certain health issues; namely, there are conditions that only affect a male while some only a female. For example, gynecologic cancers — such as ovarian, cervical and uterine — can only affect those with a female reproductive system. Sadly, cancer can change the lives of many in the blink of an eye. Gynecologic cancers are quite common, so make sure to be aware of risks and symptoms.

What is ovarian cancer?

According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer forms in tissues of the ovary. The most common form begins in the cells on the surface of the ovary.

What are the symptoms of ovarian cancer?

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are usually persistent and tend to worsen with time. Some symptoms include:

  • Abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating
  • Pelvic discomfort or pain
  • Persistent indigestion, gas or nausea
  • Changes in bowl habits, including a frequent need to urinate
  • Loss of appetite or quickly feeling full
  • Increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around your waist
  • Low back pain

How do I know if I am at risk for ovarian cancer?

Like most cancers, the likelihood of developing ovarian cancer is influenced by personal and family history. Women whose mother, sister or daughter has had ovarian cancer are at higher risk. In addition, women with a personal or family history of breast, colon or uterine cancer are at a greater risk. However, risk factors and genetics aren’t always the determining factor. Women with no family history can still be at risk.

How is ovarian cancer detected and treated

Currently, there is no screening to detect ovarian cancer. However, pelvic exams and ultrasounds can be used for detection. 

As for treatment of ovarian cancer, surgery and chemotherapy are the two most common forms of treatment. Surgery involves removing both ovaries, fallopian tubes, and the uterus as well as nearby lymph nodes and fatty abdominal tissue where ovarian cancer often spreads. If diagnosed at an early stage, a less-extensive surgery may be possible. Stage I ovarian cancer surgery may involve removing only one ovary and its fallopian tube. For more advanced cases, after surgery, patients will be treated with chemotherapy to kill any of the remaining cancer cells. In special cases before surgery, chemotherapy can be used as initial treatment.

What is cervical cancer?

The National Cancer Institute defines cervical cancer as cancer that forms in the cervix and is almost always caused by the Human Papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Cervical cancer is generally a slower-growing cancer that can be discovered by a routine Pap test.

What kind of symptoms might I encounter if I have cervical cancer?

Symptoms of cervical cancer may include:

  • Bleeding from the vagina that is not normal, or an unusual change in your menstrual cycle
  • Pain and or bleeding during sex.
  • Vaginal discharge that is tinged with blood.

How do I know if I am at risk for cervical cancer?

The most common cause of cervical cancer is the HPV virus. The risk of the HPV virus, which can be detected by a routine Pap test, increases with having multiple sexual partners. Generally, a Pap is performed during an annual exam by your gynecologist every 2-3 years. 

Studies also show that smoking or using tobacco products can increase the risk of cervical cancer. However, if you are experiencing problems or have concerns, speak with your physician.

How is cervical cancer treated?

Surgery to remove the uterus (hysterectomy) is generally performed during the early stages of cervical cancer. Other treatment regimens include radiation and chemotherapy. If you are age 26 or younger, you can get the HPV vaccine which will protect against two types of HPV that can cause cancer.

What is uterine cancer?

Uterine cancers are malignancies that start in the uterus. According to the National Institutes of Health, the most common type, endometrial cancer, forms in the lining of the uterus. In most cases, endometrial cancer begins in the cells that make and release mucus and other fluids.

What are the causes and symptoms of uterine cancer?

A higher level of estrogen, either caused naturally or medically, can increase the risks of developing uterine cancer. There are some women who are genetically at risk for endometrial cancer as well. Therefore, taking hormones after menopause that contain estrogen can increase the risk of uterine cancer. As for symptoms, they can include:

  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Prolonged periods or bleeding between periods
  • An abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from your vagina
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain during intercourse.

How can I determine if I am at rick for uterine cancer?

Typically, women who get uterine cancer are diabetic and/or obese with few or no children.

 How is endometrial cancer treated?

Treatment depends on the severity and characteristics of the cancer. Treatments, often used in combination, include:

  • Surgery to remove the uterus
  • Radiation after surgery
  • Chemotherapy, which uses chemicals to kill cancer cells.

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