Rather than a single type of cancer, gynecological cancer is a group of cancers that relate to the female reproductive system. The type of cancer takes its name from the organ that it originates from.
In the year 2007 in United States alone, as many 80,976 women were diagnosed with some type of cancer of the female reproductive organs; and as many as 27,739 died from their disease.
The main types of gynecological cancer are –
- Cervical cancer which originates in the narrow lower end of the uterus.
- Ovarian cancer which originates in the ovaries the organs responsible for releasing the egg.
- Fallopian tube or tubal cancer.
- Uterine cancer is that which originates in the womb where a baby grows during pregnancy and is the most common among the gynecologic cancers.
- Endometrial cancer that originates in the endometrium or lining of the uterus.
- Vaginal cancer originates in the tube that connects the uterus to the outside of the body.
- Vulvar cancer originates in the outer part or lips of the vagina.
It is important to know about the risk factors for each type of gynecological cancer and to look out for the symptoms of each. As in the case of any type of cancer, the key to successful treatment is early detection. Though risk factors may vary with different types of cancer, female reproductive organ cancers are known to have the following risk factors in common –
HIV or AIDS infection
Women with this infection are more at risk of one or more of cancer of reproductive organs.
Women who smoke are not only more at risk of gynecological cancers but also most other types of cancer.
This infection is a known risk factor particularly for cervical cancer, which is why it has been possible to develop a cancer vaccine to lower chances of women getting cervical cancer by preventing HPV in the first place.
Other risk factors
Race, ethnicity and age are some other very significant risk factors. DES was a given to women to prevent miscarriage some decades ago; this is also seen to be a risk factors for female cancers.
Like the risk factors the symptoms of each of the gynecological cancers may be different, however since each of the organs is located close together and connected, many of the symptoms may be in common, such as-
Lower abdominal or pelvic pain
Of course not all pelvic pain indicates female cancer, but pain can be one of the first indications of the presence of cancer.
Mid cycle bleeding, irregular periods, very painful periods, unusual types of discharge and so on are also among the symptoms.
Painful sex or bleeding after sex
If there is bleeding during sex or after it; or if it is painful, this could also be a symptom
If a woman loses weight or puts on weight seemingly no reason, it could be a matter of concern.
Bloating of the abdomen
Swelling or bloating of the stomach over a longer duration.
Diarrhea or constipation; any recurrent change in bowel pattern may be a sign of gynecological cancer of one or other type.