What are gynecologic cancers?
Gynecologic cancers are a group of cancers that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. They begin in different places within a woman’s pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and between the hip bones. Gynecologic cancers are each distinct diseases that can have different signs and symptoms. As such, they are diagnosed and treated differently. There are 5 main types of cancer that affect a woman’s reproductive organs:
- Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, the lower, narrow end of the uterus.
- Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, located on either side of the uterus.
- Endometrial cancer begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ where the fetus develops during pregnancy.
- Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
- Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs1.
What are the symptoms of gynecologic cancers?
The symptoms of gynecological cancers vary according to the type of organ affected. Women should seek medical attention if they experience the symptoms listed in the table below.
Table 1. Symptoms of the types of gynecologic cancers
|Type of Cancer||Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge; post-menopausal bleeding||Pelvic pain or pressure||Abdominal or back pain||Bloating||Changes in bathroom habits||Itching or burning of the vulva||Changes in vulva colour or skin (such as a rash, sores or warts)|
*Chart slightly revised from the CDC2.
What are the diagnosis and treatment options for gynecologic cancer?
The diagnosis and treatment options vary depending on the specific type of gynecologic cancer.
For cervical cancer, screening using a Pap test helps prevent cancer by identifying pre-cancerous changes in the cervix in women who do not have any signs or symptoms of cervical cancer. There are no screening programs available for other gynecologic cancers.
The Pap test is not a diagnostic test for gynecologic cancers (cervical or otherwise). Pelvic exams, pelvic ultrasounds, blood tests, imaging tests (X-ray, CT, MRI and PET scans) and biopsies are used to diagnose gynecologic cancers.
The individualized treatment plan is dependent on a number of factors, including the type of gynecologic cancer, stage of disease, woman’s age and her general health.
Gynecologic cancers can be treated through:
For Cancer System Quality Index (CSQI) data about gynecologic cancer, see the following sections:
For more information on gynecologic cancer, visit the following sites:
- CDC.gov [Internet]. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gynecologic cancers; 2016 Mar 21 [cited 2015 Jan 2]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/gynecologic/.
- CDC.gov [Internet]. Atlanta: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Gynecologic cancers: what are the symptoms?; 2014 Mar 6 [cited 2015 Jan 5]. Available from: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/gynecologic/basic_info/symptoms.htm.