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The Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month—GCAM—falls on September each year. Sponsored by the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, this year’s focus is about awareness of the connection between obesity and endometrial cancer, cancer that begins in the lining of the uterus. GCAM is also about reaching women to make them aware of prevention and early detection for gynecologic cancers overall.
And just in case anyone isn’t sure what gynecologic means—it’s about your female reproductive organs. So, what kind of gynecologic cancers can you develop? The CDC (centers for Disease Control and Prevention) says that you can develop the following gynecologic cancers:
Cervical cancer 1 is the easiest gynecologic cancer to prevent with regular screening tests and follow-up. It occurs most often in women over age 30. Approximately 12,000 women in the US get cervical cancer each year. It also is highly curable when found and treated early. A pap test can screen for cancer and an HPV (human papillomavirus) test can screen for HPV. Cancer can be caused by HPV, a common virus passed from one person to another during sex. There is a vaccine (3 shots) that protects against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer. The vaccine is recommended for 11-12 year old girls (before they become sexually active) and also young boys.
Ovarian cancer 2 causes more deaths than any other gynecological cancer. Older women are more likely to get it than younger women. Each year, approximately 20,000 women in the US get ovarian cancer. But when ovarian cancer is found in its early stages, treatment works best: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation.
Uterine cancer 3 is the fourth most common cancer in women in the US and it is the most commonly diagnosed gynecologic cancer. Each year, approximately 35,000 women in the US get uterine cancer. When uterine cancer is found early, treatment works best.
Recently, conversations surrounding uterine cancer have become focused on a surgical tool called the power morcellator. Power morcellators are used in laparoscopic gynecologic surgeries and have been linked to the spread of undetected malignant uterine tissue, resulting in women being diagnosed with advanced stage uterine cancers.
Vaginal and vulvar cancers 4 are very rare. Together, they account for 6-7% of all gynecologic cancers diagnosed in the U.S. An estimated 1,000 women are diagnosed with vaginal cancer and 3,500 women with vulvar cancer each year.
The CDC has a great chart of symptoms 5 (below). Pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you! See a doctor if you have any of the signs below for two weeks or longer. The earlier cancer is found and treated, the more likely treatment will be effective.
|Gynecological Cancer Symptoms|
|Symptoms||Cervical Cancer||Ovarian Cancer||Uterine Cancer||Vaginal Cancer||Vulvar Cancer|
|Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge||X||X||X||X|
|Pelvic pain or pressure||X||X||X|
|Abdominal or back pain||X|
|Changes in bathroom habits||X||X|
|Itching or burning of the vulva||X|
|Changes in vulva color or skin, such as a rash, sores, or warts||X|
What can you do? The Foundation for Women’s Cancer suggests: