New Brunswick, N.J., September 1, 2023 – Gynecologic cancer is the growth and spread of cancer cells in the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, vulva– also known as the reproductive organs. Eugenia Girda, MD, FACOG, a gynecologic oncologist at Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey and assistant professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Rutgers Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, shares more about these cancers and how you can take charge of your gynecologic health by knowing your body and talking openly to your doctors—and each other—about critical health issues.
The first step to managing these diseases is to increase your own knowledge of gynecologic cancers.
- Uterine/endometrial cancer: cancer of the lining of the uterus (called the endometrium) or the muscle of the uterus. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women at the time of menopause should learn about the risks and symptoms of uterine cancer.
- Ovarian cancer: Originates in the ovaries, or in the related areas of the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum. Unfortunately, there are no screening tests available for ovarian cancer.
- Cervical cancer: begins in the cervix, the part of the uterus or womb that opens into the vagina. It is important to note that cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that can be prevented through regular screenings and vaccinations. Almost all cases of cervical cancer are caused by a persistent high-risk human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. Regular Pap tests and testing for HPV can detect precancerous changes that occur in cells and can eventually become cervical cancer.
- Vaginal: Vaginal cancer begins in the muscular tube that connects the outer genitalia to the uterus. Risk factors for these cancers include persistent HPV infection, and age, especially 60 years and older.
- Vulva cancer: arises from the outside genitalia and can be caused either by HPV virus or by chronic inflammatory conditions, such as lichen sclerosus. Symptoms include irritation, bleeding, or discomfort from visible lesions.
Pay attention to your body, so you can recognize any warning signs and seek medical care.
Warning signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers vary depending on type, but may include pain or pressure in the pelvic area, unusual vaginal discharge or bleeding, frequent abdominal bloating or swelling or sore in the genital area that does not heal. While each gynecologic cancer has its own individual symptoms, a woman should have a general awareness of her body and know what is ‘normal’ for her. For instance, a pattern of menstrual cycles that may be unusually heavy, abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding after intercourse or frequent abdominal bloating may be signs that something isn’t right.
Start the conversation to empower each other.
Encourage the women in your life to be as proactive as possible when it comes to their gynecologic health and overall well-being. Gynecologic and sexual health can sometimes be uncomfortable topics to discuss with a medical professional, but talking openly about gynecologic health not only allows for a conversation about preventative measures, but it can help to catch potential problems sooner, when they’re often easier to treat.
Learn more about the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Rutgers Cancer Institute, the state’s leading cancer center and only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center together with RWJBarnabas Health.