Cervical, Uterine, and Vaginal Cancer Program


About Gynecologic Cancers

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is almost entirely preventable if you get your annual pelvic exam and pap smear. It starts in the cervix and occurs most often in women over 40.

The majority of women who have cervical cancer have an HPV infection; most sexually active men and women will be infected with HPV in their lifetime. Women with an abnormal pap smear should have an HPV genetic test at their annual screening to see if they have HPV. Men and women between the ages of 11 and 26 should get the HPV vaccine to prevent HPV before it happens.

If you are over the age of 65 and have always had normal pap smears, it’s no longer recommended you get regular pap smears. If you become sexually active with a new partner, start getting screened again.

Treatment plans for cervical cancer may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Laser therapy - uses high-intensity light to destroy cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery:
    • Cryosurgery: Use of liquid nitrogen or a probe that is very cold to freeze and kill cancer cells
    • Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus, including the cervix

Uterine and Endometrial Cancer

Uterine cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer and is highly curable when detected early. Uterine cancer usually occurs after menopause. Abnormal bleeding after menopause is a common symptom.

The uterus is made up of different types of tissue, and each tissue type is subjected to different kinds of uterine cancer, the most common being endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterine lining).

Gestational trophoblastic disease is another cancer that can occur in the uterus. It is a rare but highly curable cancer of the placental tissue. The disease is often benign (not cancerous), and it is not necessarily associated with a pregnancy.

Treatment plans for uterine cancer may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery:
    • Bilataeral salpingo-oophorectomy: Removal of the fallopian tubes and ovaries
    • Hysterectomy: Removal of the uterus
    • Laparoscopic lymph node sampling
    • Pelvic lymph node dissection: Removal of some lymph nodes from the pelvis 

If you are a woman of child-bearing age, there are surgical options that would conserve your fertility and allow you to still become pregnant. 

Vaginal Cancer

The vagina connects the vulva to the cervix. Cancer of the vagina is rare and has high survival rates. HPV can increase your risk of vaginal cancer. Cancer of the vagina includes adenocarcinoma, clear cell adenocarcinoma, melanoma, sarcoma, or squamous cell cancer.

Treatment plans may include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery:
    • Laser surgery: Remove the cancer, including LEEP (loop electroexcision procedure)
    • Local excision: Remove the cancer
    • Partial vaginectomy 

Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers

Not all women with gynecologic cancer have the same symptoms. Sometimes symptoms are difficult to recognize because they may be caused by or related to other conditions. The signs and symptoms below are often related to gynecologic cancer:

  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • A lump or mass
  • Bloating
  • Changes in bathroom habits or painful urination
  • Changes in vulva color or skin
  • Itching or burning of the vulva
  • Pelvic pain or pressure


See a board-certified gynecologic oncologist if you think you might have a cancer of the female gynecologic tract. Our team sees and treats any type of suspected gynecologic cancer, and we will design a treatment plan that is tailored to your individual needs. Our clinicians are also top researchers, finding new and innovative treatments and therapies.

This page includes information on uterine, endometrial, cervical, and vaginal cancers. For other gynecologic cancers, visit:

"Comprehensive" NCI Designation

A recent study published in the journal Cancer showed that patients treated at NCI-designated cancer centers have better survival outcomes than patients treated at non–NCI-designated cancer centers.

Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only institution in Iowa to hold the prestigious designation of being a Comprehensive Cancer Center by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), meaning we are rated in the top 4 percent of the approximately 1,500 cancer centers in the United States.

To be considered a "comprehensive" center means our teams have expertise in clinical, laboratory, and population-based research. Our doctors and staff are on top of the newest developments in cancer research, treatment, and diagnosis.

Why Choose Holden for Your Care?

Patients of Holden Cancer Center benefit from a team-based approach that puts each patient at the center. At Holden, experts in specific cancer types—including a genetic counselor certified and specializing in cancer genetic counseling—is part of this team.

Holden patients also benefit from medical advances that take into account an individual’s tumor, genes, environment, and lifestyle to diagnose and treat their specific types of cancer. Known as personalized, or precision medicine, this highly specialized approach is part of Holden’s commitment to providing life-changing medical treatments and care.

Services That Set Us Apart

  • Team of five gynecologic oncologists: Largest number in the state, meaning you’ll experience shorter wait times and receive knowledge and input from more specialists
  • Minimally invasive and robotic surgery for certain gynecologic cancers: Small incisions, faster recovery, and less pain for the patient, as well as enhanced precision for the surgeon
  • Our clinical trials give you access to the most recent, advanced treatment options. This may include drugs not yet on the market and other treatments under development that have the potential to increase survival rates and improve quality of life
  • New infusion suite: Designed to create a comfortable, welcoming environment for chemotherapy treatments. Take our virtual tour.
  • Quad Cities location: We also see patients in our UI Women’s Health–Quad Cities office, in addition to our Iowa City offices.

The Power of Clinical Trials and Research

Clinical trials are where research meets patient care. They are research studies that test out the latest treatments and drugs that are not yet available to the wider public. These new treatments have the potential to improve your quality of life or increase your chances of survival.

A few different studies currently enrolling are testing the effectiveness of different drugs or radiation therapy. Eligibility will depend on disease type, progression, recurrence, and other factors. Search our database, and next to MOG, select Gyn Onc.

In addition, a study is testing a way to help physicians identify women 70 years and older who would do well with surgery to treat uterine or ovarian cancer. It involves a questionnaire and blood work.

See a full list and learn more about clinical trialsat Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center.

For providers: Proceedings in Obstetrics and Gynecology is an open-access peer-reviewed journal that the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Iowa launched in 2010.

Support Our Mission

Our work is made possible in part by the support of donors through charitable giving. Friends of Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center can become partners in our efforts to control—and ultimately cure—cancer. Learn how you can help us make a difference for cancer patients.

Care Team

We bring experts from different fields of medicine to work together as a team called a multidisciplinary oncology group. Since many patients require more than one form of treatment, our team meets regularly to discuss the best course of treatment and work together to design the best personalized plan for every patient.