September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month


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Gynecologic cancers include all cancers of the reproductive system including the cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, vulva and vagina.  According to the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) and the Centers of Disease Control (CDC) approximately 89,000 women are diagnosed with gynecological cancers each year and over 29,000 die from them but each type has their own signs and symptoms and risk factors, some of which are included below.

Cervical Cancer: the human papillomavirus (HPV) is largely the cause of cervical cancer.  Routine pap smear exams are recommended to assess for cervical changes over one’s lifetime.  There are few symptoms women experience with cervical cancer but some could experience abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding or pain during sexual intercourse.  Cervical cancer is almost totally preventable and HPV vaccines are now available for teenage boys and girls to help prevent girls/women from developing cervical cancer over the course of their lifetime.  

Ovarian Cancer: According to the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA), ovarian cancer only accounts for about 3% of total GYN cancers, however, it causes more deaths than any other GYN cancer.  Ovarian cancer is typically diagnosed at a later stage which contributes to its grim prognosis … only 20% are found at an early stage.  Unfortunately there is no early detection test available for ovarian cancer. The signs and symptoms that are typically seen with ovarian cancer are abdominal pain, bloating or pressure, urinary symptoms (frequency or urgency) and sometimes feeling full quickly when eating.

Uterine Cancer:  According to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer and the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) uterine cancer is the most common type of GYN cancer making up approximately 55% of all gynecologic cancers annually and coming in as the 4th most common cancer in women across the entire U.S.  The American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) indicated the symptoms most often associated with uterine cancer are abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding or pain and pressure in the pelvic area and the risk factors for developing uterine cancer include women 50 years of age or older, obesity, taking hormone replacement therapy with estrogen alone, and a family history of uterine, ovarian or colon cancer.  

Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer: Although rare, the American Sexual Health Association (ASHA) reports approximately 3,500 new cases of vulvar cancer each year followed by 1,000 new cases of vaginal cancer annually.  Both cancers can also be associated with the human papillomavirus (HPV). The Foundation for Women’s Cancer reports signs and symptoms for vulvar cancer include: chronic itching, skin discoloration, bump or lump (red, pink or white, sometimes black or brown), pelvic pain, abnormal bleeding or discharge, open sore or ulcer, and cauliflower-like growths and for vaginal cancer: HPV infection, smoking, age 50 years or older, HIV positive, immunosuppressed conditions.  

Encourage the women in your lives to seek medical attention if they experience any of the signs and symptoms outlined above. Regular check-ups and annual screenings are important and may help with early detection and prevention.  

Photo by Melissa Askew on Unsplash