Women’s Cancers: What Research and Treatment Has Shown So Far
While gynecological cancers aren’t the most common of all cancers (compared to lung or colon), they present a very frightening reality to the woman they affect. Women that still desire to bear children may lose the opportunity, cancer treatment may put them into early menopause, or they may not enjoy sex as they once did.
Because of the sensitive nature of women’s cancers affecting the reproductive organs, all women diagnosed with cancerous cells are recommended to see a specialist. There are four main types of women’s cancers in the gynecological region that every woman should know about. Learn the signs and symptoms of each of these women’s cancers and don’t skip your scheduled pap smear.
Signs and Symptoms of These Gynecologic Cancers
This deadly cancer often goes undiagnosed because symptoms are easily mistaken for other ailments. The silver lining? Ovarian cancer is quite rare, and 95 percent of cases can be cured when caught early enough. Sadly, 70 percent of ovarian cancer cases are caught after cancer has developed to an advanced state.
While the cause of ovarian cancer remains a mystery, we do know that genetics and a family history of cancer increase risk. Some doctors even recommend a preventative hysterectomy if the patient is deemed at high risk. Your gynecologist should always check for swollen ovaries during pelvic exams to increase the chance of catching this life-threatening cancer.
After diagnosis, women undergo the removal of their ovaries and sometimes their uterus. At your pap smears, always tell your doctor if you experience frequent abdominal pain or irregular bleeding so that they can follow up.
Vulvar cancer affects the outer skin of the female genitals, including the clitoris, vaginal lips, and other surrounding tissues. Abnormal cells grow on the vulvar skin over a period of years, called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Symptoms include one or more lumps, itching and bleeding around the vaginal opening.
When caught early, this rare cancer is treated and cured relatively easily. Those most at risk are women that have a history of skipping pap smears, abnormal results, HPV, and genital warts.
Endometrial cancer develops in the uterus lining, called the endometrium. This cancer occurs most often of the four women’s cancers, according to the American Cancer Society. However, 80 to 90 percent of women are treated and have excellent outcomes, often because it’s caught so early in the process.
While we don’t know what causes endometrial cancer to develop, doctors suspect unbalanced progesterone and estrogen hormones contribute to the risk of this cancer occurring. This causes abnormal bleeding, usually after menopause, so women go to their doctor, where they’re diagnosed.
The treatment plan usually includes a hysterectomy, but radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy are also used depending on the case.
Cervical cancer once posed a major threat to women; in fact, it used to be a leader of fatality in the U.S. Now thanks to advanced technology, vaccines for HPV, screenings and other procedures, cervical cancer is much less common. “As long as women are being screened, they’re at an increasingly low risk because of our ability to identify and treat lesions before they become cancerous,” says Dr. DeBernardo, a gynecologic oncologist at Cleveland Clinic.
As long as women keep their pap smear appointments, any woman should remain at low risk for developing this cancer. Should it develop, women experience pelvic pain or bleeding that’s abnormal. Chemotherapy, surgery and radiation are used to treat cancer, depending on the severity of cancer.
Should you have any questions about gynecological cancers, don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. The more aware women are about gynecological cancers, the better chance we have to eradicate each one someday.
Content provided by Dr. Lynn Kowalski of Nevada Surgery and Cancer Care. Located in Las Vegas, Nevada, NVSCC treats gynecologic cancers including Ovarian, Cervical, Endometrial, Vulvar and Vaginal. NVSCC specializes in Da Vinci robot-assisted surgery, treating fibroids, endometriosis and other complex gynecologic conditions with a minimally invasive approach.