Gynecologic cancer FAQs

What’s your first line of defense against gynecologic cancers? Knowledge. Understanding the facts can help you recognize the symptoms so treatment can begin in the earliest stage possible. The good news is that regular gynecologic screenings can detect some cancers early and improve treatment outcomes.

What are the symptoms of gynecologic cancer?

The signs and symptoms below can be related to gynecologic cancer. However, 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.

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Bloating
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Itching or burning of the vulva
  • Changes in vulva color or skin

What should I ask my doctor about gynecologic cancer?

Remember to discuss your risk factors with your doctor at every exam. If you show increased risk due to family history, DES exposure, HPV infection, or other factors, you may need to be seen more often than the average annual screening.

  • What is my risk?
  • When should I have my next Pap test?
  • What do my Pap test results mean?
  • Is the HPV test right for me?
  • When can I stop getting a Pap test?
  • Are there any other gynecologic cancer tests that I need, based on my personal health and family cancer history? If so, what are they? Why do I need them? How do they work?

How can I prevent gynecologic cancer or find it early?

While there is no known way to prevent all types of gynecologic cancer, there are things you can do that may help lower your chance of getting them or help to find them early. It is important to find gynecologic cancers early, when treatment can be most effective.

  • Pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you
  • Maintain a healthy diet and weight
  • Avoid smoking
  • Know your family history and share it with your doctor
  • Get the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine and test
  • Get regular Pap tests

What are the types of gynecologic cancers?

Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. The five main types include:

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer starts in the cervix. Some types of cervical cancer can be prevented by HPV vaccine. Getting regular pap tests can aid in early detection.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is cancer that starts in the ovaries, which are the female reproductive organs that produce eggs. Ovarian cancer can also originate in the fallopian tubes or the abdominal lining called the peritoneum. Symptoms of ovarian cancer may be vague.

Uterine cancer

The uterus is made up of different tissue types and each is subject to different kinds of uterine cancer, the most common being endometrial cancer. Usually, uterine cancer occurs after menopause. Abnormal bleeding is a common symptom.

Vaginal cancer

The vagina connects the vulva to the cervix. HPV can increase your risk of vaginal cancer.

Vulvar cancer

The vulva are the female external genitalia. Vulvar cancer is a relatively rare diagnosis, representing about 5 percent of all gynecologic cancers. It usually appears as a lesion, so regular gynecologic exams aid in early detection.

Last reviewed: 
September 2017

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