Knowing these gynecologic cancer signs could save your life
Each year close to 100,000 women will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and approximately 30,000 will die from one according to the American Cancer Society. Gynecologic cancers are the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in the female reproductive organs including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva. The most common gynecologic cancers are endometrial cancer, ovarian cancer, and cervical cancer. Less common gynecologic cancers involve the vulva, fallopian tube, uterine wall (sarcoma), vagina, and placenta.
Factors causing gynecologic cancers vary from certain cancers caused by either acquired or inherited genes called oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes which promote the growth of cancer or others caused by a virus known as HPV or Human Papillomavirus.
Having a family history of other women relatives having had a gynecological cancer increases the possibility of a woman’s risk for being diagnosed with one. But even if there is no family history every woman is still at risk for developing this disease. This is why screening and self-examination done regularly can result in the detection of certain type of gynecological cancers at an early, more treatable stage.
Knowing warning signs of a gynecological cancer is also important catching them at an early, more treatable stage. Symptoms of these cancers are often vague and easily misdiagnosed as other health conditions, but knowing your body can give you a baseline for when you might notice changes or unusual symptoms to discuss them with a physician. Not all potential warning signs always indicate a gynecological cancer and oftentimes turn out to be less serious, non-cancer related issues. But, to be on the safe side, be sure to have any different-from-the-norm symptoms checked out by a doctor as soon as possible.
Here are symptoms that could be a sign of a gynecological cancer:
· Bleeding between periods, after sex, or after menopause
Bleeding can occur for several reasons – fibroids, polyps, hormonal imbalances, side effects of medicine, stress or pregnancy complications. But bleeding can also indicate uterine, ovarian, or vaginal cancer. Anytime bleeding is occurring for an unexplained reason, see your doctor.
· Vaginal discharge
It is usually normal for women to have some vaginal discharge. When the discharge is clear or whitish looking and with just a slight smell, it does not warrant a trip to the doctor. But vaginal discharge that is dark, bloody or has an unpleasant odor needs to be checked out. An unpleasant odor is usually a sign of an infection. But when the discharge is persistent, it could indicate a more serious condition.
· Pain in the pelvic area, abdomen, or back
Pain associated in these areas could be attributable to many things. But if a dull pain lasts more than a few weeks, and is accompanied with gas, indigestion, pressure or cramps, let a doctor know to rule out ovarian or uterine cancer.
It is not unusual at all for women to have bloating or the appearance of an extended abdomen especially during PMS. Generally the feeling and look of it goes away during and after a menstrual cycle. But when bloating is persistent or is makes a woman feel full after eating a few bits, it could indicate ovarian cancer.
· Frequent urination
A noticeable change in bowel habits of urinating much more frequently than usual could be a sign of several things – a urinary tract infection pregnancy or diabetes. However, that extra pressure on the bladder might also be an early warning sign of ovarian cancer.
· Swelling in the leg
A warning sign of cervical cancer can be a swollen leg. Often it occurs in only one leg and may be associated with other symptoms of pain, bloating or vaginal discharge.
· Skin changes on the vulva
The vulva is the outer part of the female genitalia. It includes the opening of the vagina, the labia majora (outer lips), the labia minora (inner lips) and the clitoris. Any changes such as bumps, lumps, spots, sores, rough patches, or a darkening of the skin need to be seen by a doctor as soon as possible. There is the possibility it could indicate vulvar cancer.
· Changes in menstruation
Women should pay attention to how long their period lasts and how many days it is heavy. Unusually heavy periods could mean endometrial cancer.