Understanding Gynecological Cancer Risk and Prevention
Did you know approximately 110,000 women will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer this year? That’s one case every seven minutes! These types of malignancies originate in the female reproductive organs, most commonly the cervix, endometrium or ovaries.
Did you also know that almost half of them are preventable? Prevention is better than a cure!
Cervical cancer typically affects women between the ages of 30-35, but younger and older women are at risk too. We can eradicate cervical cancer with routine use of the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screenings. It is within our grasp to make cervical cancer, like smallpox, a disease of the past.
- Vaccinating children before they become sexually active is ideal for preventing cervical pre-cancer and cancer. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended at ages 11 to 12 years for both males and females and it can be given between the ages 9 to 26.
- Regular Pap and HPV testing remain important in preventing cervical cancer.
Many women will have no symptoms. When present, the symptoms of cervical cancer, often overlap with common (benign) gynecologic issues and may include:
- Abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles
- Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
- Bleeding after sex
- Excessive discharge
Endometrial cancer is a disease that affects the lining of the uterus (where your period comes from). It is the most common gynecologic cancer in the United States, and the majority of patients are diagnosed after the age of 50. Many endometrial cancer cases are related to obesity and lack of physical activity. By improving our diet and adding 30 minutes of exercise every day, we could cut the rates of endometrial cancer significantly (and also decrease the rates of postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer and other cancer types as well). Reduce your risk of endometrial cancer by:
- Exercising regularly
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels
Symptoms of endometrial cancer:
- Postmenopausal bleeding is the most common symptom of endometrial cancer and should be promptly evaluated by a gynecologist.
Ovarian cancer is cancer that is starts on the surface of the ovaries of women. In the United States, it is the eighth most common cancer, as well as the fifth leading cause of cancer death. Up to 20% of ovarian cancer cases may be hereditary. We can identify women who are at highest risk and carry mutations that vastly increase the risk of ovarian cancer by having them answer a few simple questions about their personal and family history. Once those individuals are identified, we can prevent ovarian cancer with risk-reducing surgeries and/or medications.
- The most common genetic mutation for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is BRCA and can be detected by a blood or saliva sample.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:
- Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
- Urgency or frequency to urinate
Women experience these symptoms for more than a few weeks, should schedule an appointment to see their physician.
To find more information about gynecological cancer or to make an appointment, please visit https://www.ochsner.org/services/gynecologic-oncology.
Editor's note: This blog was originally published on Oct. 8, 2018 and has since been updated.