It is very common to be fearful that any new or different symptom we experience is cancer. Because female organs tend not to be discussed or highlighted as often, I wanted to review some of the common signs or symptoms that can be associated with gynecologic cancers. This is by no means an inclusive list, and it is always important to discuss any concerns with your physician. It may help to review basic anatomy before jumping into this post: Lady Bits Exposed: Why Knowing Your Anatomy Matters
Ovarian: Ovarian cancer is one of the most elusive. The ovaries are small, almond sized organs that sit deep in the pelvis. After menopause, they shrink and become virtually nonexistent. However, they can still become cancerous. Women that have a change in their weight, abdominal circumference, problems with eating, or other GI changes, especially when these changes occur abruptly (think: within 2-3 weeks) should not only see their primary care physician but also their gynecologist. One of the common questions I ask is, “Do you feel like your pants aren’t fitting the way they used to last month?”
Endometrial: The endometrium is the lining of the uterus or womb. Any woman who is experiencing post-menopausal bleeding should have an evaluation of her lining because there is a 10% chance that the bleeding is due to cancerous or precancerous cells. Before menopause, endometrial cancer can cause abhorrent or irregular cycles. If your cycles have become unpredictable then it is important to see your physician.
Cervical: The cervix is the area between the uterus and the vagina. This is the area that gets tested when having a pap smear performed in the office. What’s Pap-pening? What You Should Know About HPV and Abnormal Pap Tests. HPV, or human papilloma virus, is a sexually transmitted virus. Because cervical cancer is slow growing and can be treated in its early and precancerous stages, it is important to get routine exams and also use condoms to protect infection with the virus. It is very rare to have any symptoms from cervical dysplasia, however bleeding after sex that didn’t occur in the past should warrant an exam from your gynecologist.
Vulvar: The vulva is the area also referred to as “the lips” outside of the vagina. Vulvar cancers are very rare, however they do occur. Symptoms associated with vulvar cancers are intense itching, skin discoloration, and cysts or abscesses that form in the glands.
This is not an inclusive list of the different cancers that can arise from the gynecological organs. It is important to be cognizant of your body and discuss any changes with your physician. Early detection is extremely important when it comes to any form of cancer.