Are You at Risk of Developing Gynecologic Cancer?
Cancer is never a topic that anyone wants to discuss, but the more time we spend discussing topics like gynecologic cancer, the more we can become aware of risks, challenges, and opportunities.
Gynecologic Cancer: Facts and Figures
Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts within a woman’s reproductive organs, but can be located in a number of different places within a woman’s pelvis. Some of the different types of gynecologic cancer include:
At the beginning of 2018, the American Cancer Society estimated that 110,070 women would be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and that 32,120 would die. The most common type of gynecologic cancer is uterine cancer, which is estimated to affect 63,230 women this year (killing an estimated 11,350). Ovarian cancer is the second most common type, with an estimated 22,240 new cases and 14,070 deaths.
Signs and Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore
The good news is that many types of gynecologic cancer are very treatable. The key is to identify the cancer as early as possible by understanding the telltale signs. Here are a few signs and symptoms you shouldn’t ignore:
1. Most concerning is unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge. Changes to the skin of the vulva is also a potential sign of a larger issue.
2. Do you have excessive or abnormal abdominal/pelvic pain? While it’s normal to have brief bouts with pain, living with pain for weeks at a time could be a sign that something is wrong. (And cancer is just one possibility.)
3. Have you had changes in your bathroom habits? Chronic diarrhea, constipation, or changes in urination can indicate that something is wrong.
4. Bleeding or pain following intercourse could be a sign that something is wrong.
If you’re diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, it’s important to act quickly. Work with an oncology center that uses an interdisciplinary approach to develop an individualized treatment plan that’s based on your needs (rather than a generic approach). This will increase your chances of defeating the cancer.
Reducing Your Risk of Gynecologic Cancer
While there’s no foolproof way to prevent cancer, you can reduce your risk of gynecologic cancer by making smart lifestyle choices. Here are some suggestions:
1. Continue to familiarize yourself with the signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer so you’re aware of what your body is doing and when it’s showing you signs that something is wrong. If something doesn’t feel or look right, it probably isn’t.
2. All women should have their first pap smear by the time they’re 21. From the age of 21 to 65, you should have regular pap smears as directed by your doctor. (Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who don’t have regular pap tests.)
3. Human papillomavirus, also known as HPV, is one of the major causes of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. You should get an HPV test and vaccine to protect yourself against the types that commonly cause cancer.
4. One of the keys to fighting off cancer is to live a healthy lifestyle. This means maintaining a normal weight, participating in physical activity, and eating a balanced diet. In doing so, you provide your body with the resources it needs to fight off disease and infection.
5. Somewhere between 5 to 10 percent of all cancers are considered hereditary. This means you could face a greater risk of gynecologic cancer if someone in your family has had it in the past. Let your doctor know your family history so they can help you develop a better plan.
6. If you’re currently smoking or using tobacco products, you need to quit. Smoking increases your risk of contracting at least 14 different types of cancer, including cervical, vaginal, ovarian, and vulvar cancers.
At the end of the day, you have to remember that all women are at risk of developing a gynecologic cancer. This doesn’t mean you will develop cancer in your lifetime, but it does mean the possibility exists. The more proactive you are in living a healthy lifestyle, the lower you can drive this risk level.