What Women Need to Know About the Five Gynecological Cancers

Gynecologic cancer is a disease that causes cancerous cell growth in female reproductive organs, specifically the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina or vulva. While gynecological cancers are sometimes preventable, they kill more than 300,000 women worldwide each year. In 2018 in the U.S., there were an estimated 110,070 new cases diagnosed and approximately 32,120 deaths from gynecologic cancers.

Because early detection can significantly impact a woman’s prognosis and treatment, all women should be aware of the different gynecologic cancers, particularly the symptoms. In this guide, we’ll discuss the five major gynecologic cancers and common signs and symptoms.

1.    Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is a disease in which the cells on the cervix grow abnormally or form a tumor. Many cervical cancers are caused by HPV, an infection usually contracted through sexual intercourse with an infected person. Cervical cancer can affect other parts of the body as well. The most common age range for patients is 30 to 59 years old, but cervical cancer can affect women from adolescence into their 70s.

The most common cervical cancer symptoms include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (bleeding or spotting between periods)
  • Bleeding after sexual intercourse
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Vaginal discharge with a strong odor
  • Dense vaginal discharge
  • Pelvic pain

2.    Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which is why it is often undetected until the cancer cells have spread to the pelvis. Early-stage ovarian cancer, which is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully. The most common treatment methods for ovarian cancer are surgery and chemotherapy.

Ovarian cancer symptoms include the following:

  • Abdominal bloating
  • Discomfort in the pelvis area
  • Bowel movement changes
  • Frequent urination
  • Unexplained weight loss

3.    Uterine Cancer

The exact causes of uterine cancers remain unknown. However, there are factors increasing the risk of developing uterine cancer, including endometrial overgrowth (hyperplasia), estrogen therapy and a family history of uterine cancer. Studies have also shown that more cases of uterine cancer have been detected in women who hit menopause after age 55, have never had children or had their first period before age 12. Treatment options for uterine cancer include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy and chemotherapy.

Common symptoms of uterine cancer include:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Vaginal discharge
  • Pain when urinating 
  • Pain during sexual intercourse
  • Pelvic pains

4.    Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer most commonly occurring in the cells that line the surface of the vagina, often referred to as the birth canal.

Symptoms of vaginal cancer include:

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain
  • Watery vaginal discharge
  • A lump in the vagina
  • Painful and frequent urination
  • Constipation

5.    Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer is a relatively rare type of cancer that affects the external genital organs, most commonly the outer lips of the vagina.

Typical symptoms of vulvar cancer include changes in the outer lips of the vagina, such as:

  • Wart-like growths
  • Thickened skin
  • Persistent genital itching
  • Dark discoloration
  • Pain and burning
  • Ulceration

Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology is dedicated to providing the best gynecologic cancer treatment options for women with gynecologic cancer. If you have questions or have experienced any of the symptoms above, please reach out for screening.

Many women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.