Facts about four gynecologic cancers

Although all involve organs of the female genital tract, each of these four gynecologic cancers have unique symptoms and treatments, says Rinki Agarwal, MD, an Upstate gynecologic oncologist. An early assessment by a Gynecologic Oncologist is likely to improve outcomes.


Cancer of the cervix is usually diagnosed in midlife. Most women with cervical cancer are infected with HPV (human papilloma virus). A vaccine, now available for girls and boys, has good efficacy and proven safety.


Cervical cancers may have no symptoms and may be detected by routine gynecological exams, especially at early stages. Symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge or pain during intercourse.


Regular pelvic exams can uncover pre-cancerous conditions. Surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy are options for treatment. Surgery is less effective in later stages.


Ovarian cancer is considered a silent disease as the symptoms are usually subtle. It does not have good screening tests available and is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage.


Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, trouble eating or feeling full quickly and feeling the need to urinate urgently or often can be symptoms of ovarian cancer – along with fatigue, pain during intercourse, upset stomach or heartburn, constipation, back pain and menstrual changes. Because early detection can dramatically improve survival rates, seek medical care for these symptoms if they persist daily for more than a couple weeks.


Ovarian cancer responds well to treatment, which usually includes a combination of surgery and chemotherapy.


Also called endometrial cancer, this affects the lining of the uterus. It is diagnosed through a tissue biopsy and/or imaging studies.


This cancer is almost always caught early, because the early symptoms — irregular/ heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge and pelvic pain — send women to their gynecologists.


Surgery is the main treatment, but a variety of radiation therapies and chemotherapies are also options for treatment. Hormones may also be prescribed.


Most cancers of the vulva are squamous cell carcinomas, which is a skin cancer, and this disease is more commonly seen in an older population. A vulvar cancer may be related to an infection with the human papilloma virus. The HPV vaccine may provide protection against vulvar cancer.


Itching, pain or burning, thickening of the skin or an open sore on the vulva that lasts for a month or more could signal vulvar cancer. Also be concerned if an area on the vulva looks different from normal — lighter or darker, red or pink. Wart-like bumps may be suspicious, too.


Pre-cancerous conditions are likely to be discovered during regular pelvic exams. If cancer is diagnosed, patients and doctors may choose surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy, depending on how the stage of the cancer.

Need help finding a gynecologist? Contact Upstate Connect at 1-800-464-8668.

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