September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Early Detection Saves Lives.
Gynecologic cancers involve all of the female reproductive system, including the cervix, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, vulva, and vagina. All women are at risk for these cancers. According to the Centers for Disease Control, eac
h year in the United States, approximately 89,000 women are diagnosed with gynecological cancers, and over 29,000 die from them. Each gynecological cancer has different signs and symptoms, as well as different risk factors. Risk increases with age. Cervical Cancer Infection of the cervix with human papillomavirus (HPV) is almost always the cause of cervical cancer. Women who do not regularly have tests to detect HPV or abnormal cells in the cervix are at increased risk of cervical cancer. Ovarian Cancer There are three types of ovarian cancer in adults, including: ovarian epithelial cancer, which begins in the tissue covering the ovary, lining of the fallopian tube, or the peritoneum; ovarian germ cell tumors, which start in the egg or germ cells; and ovarian low malignant potential tumors, which begin in the tissue covering the ovary. Uterine Cancer Uterine cancer forms in the tissues of the uterus, the organ in which a fetus develops. The two types of uterine cancer are endometrial cancer and uterine sarcoma. Endometrial cancer forms in the tissues of the endometrium – the lining of the uterus. Obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes may increase the risk of endometrial cancer. Uterine sarcoma is a rare type of cancer that forms in the uterine muscles or in tissues that support the uterus. Exposure to X-rays during radiation therapy can increase the risk of uterine sarcoma. Treatment with the breast cancer drug tamoxifen is a risk factor for both types of uterine cancer. Vaginal Cancer There are two main types of vaginal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is more likely than squamous cell cancer to spread to the lungs and lymph nodes. A rare type of adenocarcinoma is linked to being exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) before birth. Adenocarcinomas not linked with being exposed to DES are most common in women after menopause. Vulvar Cancer Vulvar cancer forms in a woman's external genitalia. Vulvar cancer most often affects the outer vaginal lips. Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time. This condition is called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN). Because it is possible for VIN to become vulvar cancer, it is important to get treatment. Risk factors for vulvar cancer include having VIN, HPV infection, and having a history of genital warts.