What is Gynecologic Cancers?
When it comes to reproductive organs in women, caution is vital. Cancer that develops in the reproductive organs of a woman is termed gynecological cancers. Doctors may find gynecological cancers in various places of a woman’s reproductive parts such as the cervix, ovary, uterus, etc.
You must keep track of your body so that you can immediately seek help from professionals when you experience any unusual changes in the body. Everyone may not have the same symptoms of gynecological cancers. Gynecological cancers are divided into six types, out of which three types are widespread, and the other three are very rarely seen.
Gynecologic cancers types
There are six types of gynecological cancers that are detected in women. Out of the six types of cancers, doctors find the three classes to be ubiquitous, and the rest are sporadic. Each type of cancer is unique and has its symptoms and signs.
Every woman is at risk of having gynecological cancers. The risk of getting affected by this cancer increases as the age increases. Treatment might prove to be effective if it is found at an early stage.
The six types of gynecological cancers are:
1. Uterine cancer
Women have a pear-shaped organ in the body known as the uterus. This is the area where the growth of the baby takes place. It is one of the most common types of cancer that is found in women. The chances of having this cancer increase with diabetes, obesity, and frequent estrogen use, especially without progesterone, and hypertension.
The sub-division of uterine cancers are endometrial stromal tumors, endometrial cancers, and uterine sarcomas. Doctors find endometrial cancer to be the most common type of cancer in the uterus.
If detected and diagnosed at a very early stage, endometrial cancer can be curable. It is treated by laparoscopic surgery, which is a minimally invasive surgery. The time taken for this surgery is a hospital stay of only 2-3 days. Some patients require post-surgery treatment. The post-surgery treatment requires either radiotherapy or a combination of chemotherapy and radiotherapy both.
2. Cervical cancer
This is another kind of gynecological cancer, which is also very common. Women in large numbers are affected by this kind of cancer all over the world. They often reach advanced stages because the awareness regarding this cancer is significantly less, and the screening facilities are also very poor. Human Papillomavirus or HPV infection is a common cause of cervical cancers.
Doctors suggest PAP tests or regular cancer screenings for detecting HPV. It may help to detect cervical cancer at an early stage. Early-stage detection helps to treat the tumor by radical surgery alone. If the cancer is detected at an advanced stage, it may require radiation and chemotherapy.
A very effective way to prevent this type of cancer is through the process of vaccination. This vaccination must be given before young girls are sexually active. The method of immunization is also useful in the case of other kinds of cervical cancers.
3. Ovarian cancer
Another most commonly detected gynecological cancer is ovarian cancer. The three kinds of ovarian cancer are stromal cell cancer, epithelial ovarian cancer, and germ cell cancer. Among all these cancers, epithelial cancer is the most common one. 85% of ovarian cancers are epithelial ovarian cancer.
Epithelial ovarian tumors that are benign in nature are cured by surgery, and the ones that are malignant are treated by chemotherapy or cytoreductive tumor surgery. An essential fact that you must know about epithelial ovarian cancers is that they can reoccur in advanced stages.
Younger individuals are found suffering from germ cell tumors, which is a form of ovarian cancer. 95% of the germ cell tumors are cured by surgery. Some of the cases require chemotherapy. Doctors often prefer fertility preservation therapy to treat young patients suffering from germ cell tumors.
Out of all the ovarian cancers, stromal cell cancer is the most slow-growing. This kind of cancer is treated with surgery.
4. Vulvar cancer
This is a sporadic form of gynecological cancer. The external genitalia of the female is mostly affected by vulvar cancer. It is very commonly detected in women who are elderly. This type of cancer is mostly curable. Doctors might perform radical surgery to treat vulvar cancer. Sometimes radiation therapy and chemotherapy are also needed.
5. Vaginal cancer
The other rare form of cancer is vaginal cancer. Women who are above the age of 50 years are mostly affected by this kind of cancer. In the case of vaginal cancer, Human Papillomavirus, or HPV injection, is responsible. Doctors perform radical surgery to treat vulvar cancer, and sometimes chemotherapy or radiotherapy is also needed.
6. Gestational trophoblastic tumor
GTD or gestational trophoblastic disease is a term given to a group of tumors that are related to pregnancy. These tumors are sporadic and subdivided into five more types. One of the classes is benign, and the other four types are malignant.
During the time of pregnancy, the tumors start growing in the layers of cells, which are known as trophoblast. Doctors use chemotherapy to treat these tumors. They are mostly curable.
When to see a doctor
There is no way by which you can be sure that you will be getting gynecological cancer. You need first to recognize the symptoms and signs of gynecological cancers before you seek any help.
If you have abnormal bleeding from the vagina, talk to your doctor immediately. After menopause, any sort of vaginal bleeding needs treatment. You must ask for help from the doctors. If you have not reached the menopause stage but still notice you have heavier periods, which even lasts longer, or in case you are experiencing abnormal bleeding between your cycle, seek medical consultation.
If you experience any of the symptoms or warnings that last for longer and are not usual, you must contact the doctor.
Gynecologic cancers causes
There are many causes of gynecological cancers. Some of the reasons are:
- History of menstrual and reproductive problems includes having issues while conceiving or starting menstruation before the age of 12 and menopause after 55.
- Family history
- Older age
- Weak immune system
- HIV infection
- HPV infection
- High-fat diet
- Usage of fertility drugs or oral birth control drugs
- Any kind of prior radiation performed in the pelvic area
- Estrogen therapy
Gynecologic cancer symptoms
The symptoms of all gynecological cancers are not the same. Some of the symptoms might be similar, but not all. It mainly varies depending upon the individual, the kind of cancer, and its stage. In many cases, it is seen that some women may not even experience any such symptoms. Some of the symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- Pelvic area pain
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- Discharge from the vagina is unusual
symptoms of endometrial cancer are:
- Pain during sex
- Pain during urination
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- Pressure, pain, or lump in the lower belly
- Weight loss that is unexplained
symptoms of ovarian cancer are:
- Loss of appetite
- Discomfort in the abdomen
- Bleeding from the vagina
- Weight loss that is unexplained
- Frequent urge to urinate
- Fluid buildup responsible for shortness of breath
symptoms of vaginal cancer are:
- A growth or lump
- Abnormal discharge
- Vaginal bleeding that is abnormal
- Pain sensation during urination
- Pain sensation during sex
- Pelvic pain which occurs frequently
- A feeling of burning or itching in the vulvar area
- A sore that is open and lasted for more than one month
- The white color of the skin on the vulva
- A rough sensation of the skin on the vulva
symptoms of uterine cancer are:
- Abnormal bleeding from the vagina
- Painful urination
- Difficulty while urinating
- Frequent urge for urination
- Feeling of pain during sex
- Pelvic pain that is frequent
symptoms of fallopian tube cancer are:
- Vaginal bleeding that is not usual
- Pelvic pressure or pain
- Mass or a lump found in the area of the pelvic
- Vaginal discharge that is not usual
Treatment Options For Gynecologic Cancers
When cancer starts in the cervix, it is called cervical cancer. All women are at risk for cervical cancer.
Endometrial cancer also called endometrial carcinoma, develops in the cells of the inner edging of the uterus.
Cancer that occurs on the outer surface area of the female genital organs is known as Vulvar Cancer.
Cancer that happens due to the abnormal growth of genes that controls cell growth mutation is known as ovarian cancer.
In simple terms, Breast Cancer is a disease in which the breast cells grow uncontrollably.
Risk factors for gynecologic cancers
There are various risk factors for gynecological cancers. It all depends upon the age and the kind of cancer. Some of the risk factors are:
- A weak immune system
- History of gynecologic cancer
Screening tests for gynecological cancers
The screening tests for gynecological cancers are:
- HPV testing
- Polarprobe or Tuscan
- Ovarian carcinoma screening
- Biochemical markers
- Genetic screening
- Proteomic technology
- Examination of the pelvic area
Gynecologic cancer diagnosis
If you visit your gynecologist for regular checkups, it will assist in detecting gynecological cancers early. Your doctor will look for irregularities or unusual masses on the vulva, cervix, ovaries, uterus, and vagina during the pelvic exam. You will also go through a PAP test to check whether there is any presence of cells that are cancerous on the cervix or not.
If your gynecologist suspects any sign of cancer, specific diagnostic imaging tests will be performed, which includes:
- An ultrasound
- MRI or CT Scan
These tests will help the gynecologists to determine the extent of gynecological cancer. Doctors may also perform some additional methods to diagnose or screen gynecological cancer. Some of them are:
- D&C or Dilation and curettage
- LEEP or Loop Electrosurgical Excision Procedure
- HE4, CA-125, OVA 1 blood tests
Gynecologic cancer treatment
The treatments for gynecological cancers are done with advanced technology. During the process, doctors suggest compassionate care for women. The therapy will basically depend upon the extent of cancer, your overall health, and your strength of tolerance for different therapies you will undergo during the procedure. Some of the treatment options are:
Doctors prefer surgery as it is the primary treatment considered in the case of gynecological cancer. It helps remove the tumor, the organs that are affected, and the groin lymph nodes or the para-aortic lymph nodes. Gynecologic oncologists, who are specially trained using minimally invasive surgical instruments to remove the tumor. It helps in faster healing and also causes minimum pain.
- Radiation Therapy
Cancer cells are killed, and tumors are shrunk using radiation therapy. The radioactive waves help to conduct this procedure.
The cancer cells are killed by consuming medicines orally or taking medications intravenously. These are popularly known as chemotherapy.
- Hormone therapy
This therapy focuses on stopping the growth of the cancer cells and kills them.
- Intraperitoneal chemotherapy
This chemotherapy involves administering directly into the cavity of the abdomen. This therapy is improving day by day, and patients are also improving for long-term survival.
- Clinical trials
Through these studies, researchers can find effective treatments that will help to cure gynecological cancers.
Gynecological cancers are curable when diagnosed at an early stage. It is a worldwide issue nowadays. Researchers are developing drugs that can deal with this cancer even at an advanced stage.
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Did you know that one in eight women is diagnosed with breast cancer? Yes, unfortunately, the incidence of breast cancer is on the rise in our country. Moreover, over 2.3 million women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year worldwide.
Ovarian cancer is on the rise among both young and older women. The death rates are higher than other gynecological cancers and about 3% of all cancers in women are ovarian cancer.
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Dr. Jay Mehta
Fertility and IVF Specialist
Dr. Jay Mehta is the Scientific Director of Shree IVF Clinic. He is a well-known Fertility and IVF Specialist and also among few doctors in the country who specializes in Embryology and Andrology.