All women are at risk for developing gynecologic cancers. Every year approximately 82,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cancers of the reproductive organs. Gynecologic cancers are the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in female reproductive organs, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva.
There are often no outward signs of gynecologic cancers. However, some common symptoms include:
- Unusual bleeding, such as postmenopausal bleeding, bleeding after intercourse or bleeding between periods.
- A sore in the genital area that doesn't heal or chronic itching of the vulva.
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis.
- Persistent vaginal discharge.
Diet, exercise and lifestyle choices have been shown to play significant roles in the prevention of cancer. Additionally, knowing your family history can increase your chance of early diagnosis and can help you take preventive action. Screenings and self-examinations conducted regularly can result in the detection of certain gynecologic cancers in their earliest stages, when treatment is more successful.
Under age 40
You should have a pelvic exam every year with Pap test (starting at age 18). Beginning at age 30, women who have had 3 normal Pap test results in a row may get screened every 2 years.
After Age 40
Annual pelvic exams and pap smears every two years are recommended by the American Cancer Society. Endometrial tissue biopsy is needed if you are at high risk.
If the Pap test is abnormal, your doctor may perform a test called a colposcopy to closely examine the cervix. Scraping cells from the cervical canal (endocervical curettage) may also be necessary. A small sample of tissue may be taken from any suspicious area. This test is called a biopsy.
Occasionally, doctors need to examine a larger sample of cervical tissue. It is obtained during a procedure called conization or cone biopsy.
In some situations, your doctor may recommend an exam under anesthesia to better evaluate the extent of a cancer. Tests requiring anesthesia include examination of the bladder (cystoscopy) and rectum (sigmoidoscopy).
Abnormal uterine bleeding, a common symptom of uterine cancer, is usually evaluated by performing a dilatation and curettage, also called a D and C.
Your doctor may also ask for MRI, CT, PET or ultrasound scans of the abdomen and pelvis to better evaluate areas that cannot be directly viewed, such as the ovaries.
A family practice physician or a gynecologist/obstetrician can perform an annual pelvic exam, so schedule an appointment today. If you don't have a physician, call 614-234-LIFE and we'll refer you to one.