Understanding your risk
Like other cancers, your risk depends on many variables including:
- Contracting the human papillomavirus virus (HPV)
- Family history
- Lifestyle behaviors (e.g. smoking , diet and exercise)
- Overall health
Our oncology department offers comprehensive cancer risk assessments and hereditary cancer genetics evaluation programs to help you identify your risk.
Prevention and diagnosis
Almost all cervical cancers and some cancers of the vagina and vulva are caused by a virus known as HPV. The best ways to prevent and detect the virus are:
- Getting the HPV vaccine (recommended for preteens prior to engaging in sexual intercourse)
- Getting regular pap smears and pelvic exams from your gynecologist
- Using a condom during sexual intercourse
While early detection can help the effectiveness of treatment, many types of cancers are not diagnosed in their early stages because symptoms are not easily recognizable.
Most cervical cancers are diagnosed through pelvic exams and Pap smears. Make sure to schedule your annual visit with your gynecologist.
Not all symptoms of cancer are recognizable. Here are the most common for gynecological cancers:
- Pain or bleeding during or after sex, douching or a pelvic examination
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
- Vaginal bleeding outside of your menstrual period or during menopause
- Abdominal or back pain
- Feeling full too quickly or difficulty eating
- Changes in your bathroom habits (frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation.)
If you have unusual vaginal bleeding, see a doctor right away.
Types of gynecological cancer
- Cervical cancer: Cervical cancer starts in the cervix, which is located in the lower end of the uterus and usually grows slowly, over many years. Infection with HPV is the main risk factor for cervical cancer, causing more than 90% of cases diagnosed in the U.S.
- Ovarian cancer/fallopian tube cancer: Ovarian cancer occurs in the two ovaries, which are almond-sized pouches that create eggs. Due to its location, ovarian cancer often goes undiagnosed until it has spread to the pelvis. Ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, but when found in its early stages, treatment works best.
- Uterine/endometrial cancer: Endometrial cancer develops in the lining of the uterus called the endometrium.
- Vaginal cancer: While it is possible for some types of gynecologic cancers to spread to the vagina, it’s not common for cancer to form in the vagina.
- Vulvar cancer: This type of gynecologic cancer starts on the outer surface of the female genitalia. It is commonly seen as a lump around the urethra and vulva. Vulvar cancer is rare, one of the least recognized gynecological cancers, but if detected early, it can be successfully treated and cured.
- Surgery: Remove the tumor or entire affected area (such as a hysterectomy to remove the uterus).
- Radiation therapy: Help shrink the tumor prior to surgery, or to help reduce the risk of cancer returning after surgery.
- Hormone therapy: Block or lower the amount of hormones in the body to stop or slow down the growth of cancer.
- Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy may be given prior to surgery to help improve the chance of complete removal of the tumor, or may be given to inoperable patients to help prolong and improve quality of life.
Medical care and help
Contact us if you have any questions.