SEPTEMBER is Gynaecologic Cancer Awareness Month, used to bring awareness to the different gynaecologic cancers and how they affect women across the globe.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the five main types are cervical, ovarian, uterine/endometrial, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Here is some information on these cancers from the Mayo Clinic.
Early stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Indications of more advanced cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods, or after menopause; watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odour; and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse. It isn't clear what causes cervical cancer, but it's certain that the human papillomavirus (HPV) plays a role, along with environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
Endometrial cancer, sometimes called uterine cancer, begins in the layer of cells that form the lining of the uterus. Endometrial cancer often is detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their health-care professional. If endometrial cancer is discovered early, surgically removing the uterus often cures it.
Ovarian cancer may not cause any symptoms, and when symptoms are noticeable, they're often attributed to other, more common conditions. These signs and symptoms can include abdominal bloating or swelling; quickly feeling full when eating; weight loss; discomfort in the pelvic area or back pain; fatigue; and changes in bowel and bladder habits, including constipation and frequent urination.
Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of the vagina. While several types of cancer can spread to the vagina from other places in the body, primary vaginal cancer is rare. A diagnosis of early stage vaginal cancer has the best chance for a cure. Vaginal cancer that spreads beyond the vagina is more difficult to treat.
Vulvar cancer occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia. Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching.
How can you lower your risk?
You can lower your risk for some gynaecologic cancers with the HPV vaccine and screening tests. Some gynaecologic cancers are caused by HPV, a common virus. The HPV vaccine can help prevent cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
Cervical cancer is the only gynaecologic cancer that has recommended screening tests. The Pap test (or Pap smear) and HPV test can help prevent cervical cancer or find it early.
Treatment for gynaecologic cancers depend on several factors, including the stage of the cancer, other health problems you may have, and your lifestyle preferences. Surgery; radiation or chemotherapy; hormone therapy to block hormones that cancer cells rely on; targeted drug therapy that attacks specific weaknesses in the cancer cells; and immunotherapy to help your immune system fight cancer; or a combination, may be used.