Women's Health

Gynecologic Cancer

Cancer Overview

We understand that being diagnosed with any kind of cancer can be frightening. We’re here to help you get a general understanding of gynecologic cancer, which affects the female reproductive system.

  • One of the first steps to fighting cancer is to arm yourself with knowledge and learn as much as you can about the disease and how it's treated.
  • Early detection is your best defense. Being aware and educated will help you identify symptoms early, so you have the best chance of recovery.

Cancer is defined as the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells in the body.

  • Cancerous cells are also called malignant cells.
  • Malignant means that the cells (or tumor) can reproduce quickly and will likely spread to other parts of the body.

Medical advances to diagnose and treat cancer are continuously being developed, so be sure to speak with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and treatment options.

Cancer Stage

Cancer Stage is a measure that the medical community uses to identify the level of cancer in the body. Identifying the stage will help guide a treatment plan and predictions for the chances of recovery.

  • Cancer stages are usually determined by three factors:
    • Size and growth of the tumor
    • Whether cancer has spread to the lymph nodes
    • Whether cancer has spread to other parts of the body
  • Most cancers have four stages, stages I (one) to IV (four). Some cancers also have a stage 0 (zero).

Causes of Cancer

Many possible causes contribute to cancer. Some causes have been studied more than others.

  • Genetics: Some, but not all, cancers are hereditary
  • Tobacco Use: Cigarettes, cigars and second hand smoke are factors
  • Diet and Physical Activity: Around one-third of cancer deaths are linked to poor diet, physical inactivity, and carrying too much weight.331
  • Infections: Some viruses, bacteria, and other germs may increase a person's risk for certain types of cancer. Two specific infections are:
    • HIV and AIDS: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), is caused by infection from the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). AIDS is the most advanced stage of HIV infection.
    • HPV: Human papillomavirus (HPV) is a very common sexually transmitted infection. Vaccines protect against the HPV types that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
  • Environmental Exposure to Carcinogens (cancer-causing agents): Possible carcinogens may be found at home, at work, in pollution, and some medical tests and treatments. Examples are asbestos, radon, and chemotherapy.
  • Radiation Exposure: In additional to the sun, radiation comes from many sources, such as cell phones, power lines, x-rays and tanning beds.

Click here to learn more about causes of cancer.

Gynecologic Cancer

Gynecologic cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in the female reproductive organs, including the uterus, ovaries, cervix, vagina and vulva.

All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers. Risk increases with age.

If you’ve been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, you should know you're not alone – there are tens of thousands of women who are diagnosed in the U.S. each year.331

Female Reproductive System

Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancer

Signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers will vary by type of cancer. Some symptoms may be similar to other conditions too, so they don’t necessarily mean you have cancer.

However, it is important that you are in tune with your body, and see a doctor if something doesn’t seem right, such as:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, spotting or other discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Abdominal or back pain
  • Bloating
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Itching or burning of the vulva
  • Changes in vulva color or skin, such as rash, sores or warts
  • Weight loss
  • Feeling a mass or lump

There are many variables in the way gynecologic cancers are diagnosed and treated, depending on the type of cancer. But for everyone, treatment works best when cancer is found early.

It’s important to talk to a doctor right away if you are experiencing symptoms that are not normal for you.

Learn more about types of gynecologic cancer.

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