Each year, more than 98,000 women in the United States alone – that’s approximately 1 in 25 – are diagnosed with some form of gynecologic cancer. These conditions affect the female reproductive system, including the uterus, ovaries and cervix (most common) and the vulva, fallopian tubes, uterine wall and vagina (more rare). In recognition of the fact that women need to be aware of what they can do to safeguard their own health, the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation and American Hospital Association have jointly declared September as Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month.
Every type of gynecologic cancer is unique in terms of its risk factors, prevention strategies and symptoms. While routine screening tests like mammograms can be very useful for detecting other types of cancer, such as breast cancer, in early stages, cervical cancer is the only type of gynecologic cancer for which there is an effective screening test (a Pap smear). In addition to early detection, a Pap test can help prevent cervical cancer by identifying precancerous cellular changes on the cervix that could potentially transform into cervical cancer if left untreated.
How to protect yourself
Because there is no reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancer other than cervical cancer, it’s essential for every woman to become familiar with her own body, know what is normal for her and be able to recognize possible warning signs of gynecologic cancer, such as unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge (especially after menopause). Other common symptoms include:
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Abdominal or low back pain
- Abdominal bloating
- Changes in bladder or bowel patterns, including frequent or painful urination, constipation or diarrhea
- Itching, burning or changes in the vulva, such as the appearance of a rash or skin lesion
Of course, these symptoms can be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know for sure is to see a physician who can provide an accurate diagnosis. In general, a woman should seek prompt medical attention if she experiences any of these warning signs, the symptoms are not normal for her or her discomfort lasts for more than two weeks.
Moffitt Cancer Center
During Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month and throughout the rest of the year, Moffitt encourages all women to proactively seek educational information to help protect themselves against gynecologic cancers, which collectively comprise the fourth leading cause of death among women. By calling 1-888-MOFFITT or completing our new patient registration form online, a woman can obtain gynecologic cancer information and assistance from our expert oncologists with or without a referral.