5 Things You Don’t Want To Know About Gynecologic Cancers (But Should)

Besides the fact that all types of cancer are just downright scary—gynecologic cancers included—what do you actually know about this group of cancers that affect the nether region? If you’re like nearly 20% of women, you may not be able to name a single sign or symptom (yikes!) even though gynecologic cancers are the fourth biggest cause of cancer-related deaths. Something just doesn’t add up here.

So what are we missing? Why are gynecologic cancers so misunderstood and often overlooked by women under 40? It’d be nice if there was a quick and easy answer to this question. But like most things, it’s a bit complicated.

Not to worry, though, we’re working with Sheila Warren, RN, GMC’s health navigator, to put gynecologic cancers on your health radar. Here are 5 facts about gynecologic cancers that aren’t a want, but a need for every woman:

1.    There isn’t just one type of cancer to be worried about.

Most of think of the female reproductive system as a whole; lumping the cervix, ovaries, uterus, vagina, vulva and fallopian tubes together. However, because they are all unique organs, they can each be impacted by a different type of cancer—five to be exact. This includes cervical, ovarian, endometrial/uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
And while ovarian and cervical cancers are the most well-known of the five, endometrial/uterine cancer is actually the most common.

2.    Most women have at least one of the risk factors (if not more).

It isn’t just post-menopausal women, or women who have other gynecologic conditions (like HPV) that are at risk for developing cancer. In fact, some of the most common risk factors are actually those seemingly harmless, everyday things that we’ve (almost) all experienced.  
Some of these risk factors include:

·         Smoking
·         Eating a diet low in fresh fruits and veggies
·         Being overweight
·         Artificial hormone changes (oral contraceptives or hormone therapy)
·         IUDs (intrauterine device)
·         Multiple full-term pregnancies
3.    The symptoms are super, super vague.

You’d know if you had something as serious as cancer—right? While we’d like to think that the symptoms would be obvious enough to immediately send up a red flag, most of them are easily mistaken for other common conditions like menstruation, irritable bowel syndrome, UTIs and more.

So how can you tell the difference between cancer warning signs and other conditions? It starts with knowing your body and what’s normal for you. But if you notice any one or more of these symptoms when you’re not on your period and they last for up to two weeks, it’s definitely time to see a healthcare expert:

·         Abnormal bleeding and/or discharge (all types of gynecologic cancer)
·         Feeling full or a loss of appetite (ovarian cancer)
·         Pelvic pain, pressure or discomfort (ovarian and uterine cancer)
·         An increase in the frequency and urgency of urinating (ovarian and vaginal cancer)
·         Chronic bloating (ovarian cancer)
·         Pelvic and/or back pain and cramping (ovarian cancer)
·         Itching, burning or changes in color of the vagina or vulva (vulvar cancer)

4.    There aren’t any regular screenings for most types of gynecologic cancers.

Despite the fact that gynecologic cancers impact thousands of women every year, there aren’t routine screenings for most types. And it isn’t just that. For some types of gynecologic cancers, like ovarian and endometrial/uterine, even if you wanted to be screened, there are no reliable or simple screening options available before the onset of symptoms.

Most experts emphasize the importance of knowing the most common symptoms (listed above) and noting any changes or warning signs to your healthcare provider. You are your best method of prevention.

5.    Most women choose to skip the most common preventative test there is.

Even though proactive screening isn’t available for ovarian, endometrial/uterine, vaginal or vulvar cancers, that isn’t the case for cervical cancer (thank goodness!). As a part of routine pap smears, cervical cancer screenings are surprisingly simple and undeniably easy. However, recent studies estimate that as many as one-third of women are opting to skip their paps—and for shocking reasons.

Things like not waxing or shaving their pubic area, feeling uncomfortable about their body shape or how they look and worrying about whether or not they smell, have all stopped women from getting their routine pap.

Now if you’re one of those women who has skipped over a routine pap, you’re not alone. But let’s not dwell on the past. Instead, let’s focus on a healthier future. By working with a compassionate and supportive expert like GMC’s Health Navigator, Sheila Warren, RN, you can find the health information, expert care and personal encouragement you need. No matter your stage of life, Sheilawould love to help ensure your lasting health and wellbeing.

You may also like...