September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month: What Everyone Should Know


Cancer develops when cells divide uncontrollably, leading to tissue destruction. Cancer of the uterus, ovaries or other female reproductive organs is referred to as gynecological cancer. To diagnose, treat, and prevent cancers of the female reproductive system is the speciality of gynecologic oncology.


Cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer are all examples of gynecological cancers, which refers to the medical condition in which cancer or tumour cells form in a woman's reproductive organs.


For women, gynecological malignancies rank high among the causes of mortality from the disease. Every year, tens of thousands of women in India and other countries are diagnosed with some kind of gynecological cancer, making it imperative that everyone be well-versed on the numerous subtypes of this disease.


Gynecologic cancers can emerge in various regions of a woman’s pelvis. These types of cancers can often be under-reported and under-detected because of social stigma around women’s health and lack of access to health care services. September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month and let us spread awareness on Gynecological Cancer in our Community and help them detect it early and save lives.


Diagnosis is essential for medical experts to give precise care, track and manage an illness. It is important for women to be aware of the symptoms, causes and screening tests for gynecologic cancers. With recent advancements in science and technology, healthcare delivery to address cancers has evolved considerably. There are now screening measures in place for cancer diagnosis in more major hospitals in urban India.


Five main types of gynecological cancer are ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar.

There are six types of gynecological cancers of which three are common and the other three are rare which are listed below.

  1. Uterine cancer

  2. Cervical cancer

  3. Ovarian cancer

  4. Vulvar cancer

  5. Vaginal cancer

  6. Gestational trophoblastic tumour

MOST COMMON GYNECOLOGICAL CANCERS:

The following types of gynecological cancers are quite common and affect a large number of women every year:


Uterine Cancer

Cancer of the uterine lining is called endometrial cancer (called the endometrium). During pregnancy, a baby grows in the uterus, also called the womb. On both sides of the uterus are the fallopian tubes and ovaries. The cervix is the opening between the uterus (or womb) and the vagina. These reproductive organs are near the bladder and rectum in the pelvis.

During the time when a woman can have children, the lining of the uterus, called the endometrium, grows each month. It does this so that if a woman gets pregnant, it will be ready to hold an embryo. If there is no pregnancy, the endometrium is lost during the period.


Symptoms of Uterine Cancer

The most common warning sign for uterine cancer, including endometrial cancer, is abnormal vaginal bleeding. Recognition of this symptom often affords an opportunity for early diagnosis and treatment. In older women, any bleeding, spotting, or brownish discharge after menopause may be a symptom of endometrial cancer. Younger women are also at risk and should note irregular or heavy vaginal bleeding as this can be a symptom of endometrial cancer


Uterine cancers can be further subdivided into endometrial cancers, uterine sarcomas, and endometrial stromal tumours. Of these, endometrial cancer is the most common type of uterine cancer and the other two are quite rare. Endometrial cancer is also one of the most curable ones. Endometrial cancer is diagnosed quite early in most cases and hence is treated by a laparoscopic (minimally invasive) surgery. The entire treatment requires only 2-3 days of hospital stay in most cases. Though a few patients of endometrial cancer (about 10-15%) may require further treatment in the form of radiotherapy or a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.


Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is another type of gynecologic cancer that is very common and is one of the main reasons women die from cancer all over the world. A lot of women in India are diagnosed with this cancer every year. Unfortunately, because most people don't know about it and there aren't many places to check for it, most of these women are diagnosed when cancer has already spread. Also, HPV (Human Papillomavirus) infection is the cause of a lot of cervical cancers.

Cancer occurs when cells in an area of the body grow abnormally. Cervical cancer is cancer that begins in the cervix, the part of the uterus or womb that opens into the vagina. It is the part of the uterus that dilates and opens fully to allow a baby to pass into the birth canal. The normal cervix has two main types of cells: squamous (or flat) cells, which protect the outside of the cervix, and glandular cells which are mostly inside the cervix and produce the fluid and mucus commonly seen during ovulation.

Cervical cancer is caused by abnormal changes in either of these cell types in the cervix and is the only gynecologic cancer that can be prevented by regular screening and preventive vaccination.


Symptoms of Cervical Cancer

Cervical precancers usually have no symptoms. That is why it is important to have a Pap test. A woman usually does not have any signs until the cells turn into cancer and invade the deepest parts of the cervix or other pelvic organs.

These symptoms include:

  • Vaginal discharge

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding

  • Vaginal odour

  • Pain

These symptoms may be caused by cancer or by other health problems. It is important for a woman to see her doctor if she is having any of these symptoms.

Regular cancer screenings and PAP test for HPV detection are important for early detection. If diagnosed early, cervical cancer can be treated by radical surgery alone while those detected in advanced stages require a combination of chemo and radiation therapy.

Vaccinating young girls for preventing HPV infection before they are sexually active is a very effective way to prevent cervical cancers as well as many other forms of gynecological cancers.


Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is another common gynecological cancer. There are three types of it: epithelial ovarian cancer, germ cell cancer, and stromal cell cancer. Of these, epithelial ovarian cancer is the most common one accounting for about 85 percent of all ovarian cancers.

Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer

Historically, ovarian cancer was called the “silent killer” because symptoms were not thought to develop until the chance of cure was poor. However, recent studies have shown this term is untrue and that the following signs are much more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than in women in the general population, even in patients with early-stage disease.

These symptoms include:

  • Bloating

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain

  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly

  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Women who have these symptoms almost daily for more than a few weeks should see their doctor, preferably a gynecologist. Prompt medical evaluation may lead to detection at the earliest possible stage of the disease. Early-stage diagnosis is associated with an improved prognosis. Several other symptoms have been commonly reported by women with ovarian cancer. These symptoms include fatigue, indigestion, back pain, pain with intercourse, constipation, and menstrual irregularities. However, these other symptoms are not as useful in identifying ovarian cancer because they are also found in equal frequency in women in the general population who do not have ovarian cancer.


Resource:FWC_Gynecologic-Cancer-Awareness_FINAL.pdf (foundationforwomenscancer.org)

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