Gynecologic cancers are diagnosed every six minutes in America. Though nearly 1 in 20 women are affected by these cancers, there are more promising treatments today than ever before.
“Although new drug therapies and minimally invasive surgical procedures have made treatment more effective, early detection remains a woman’s best opportunity to treat gynecologic cancers,” says David P. Warshal, MD, Director of the MD Anderson Cooper Gynecologic Cancer Center.
Any woman can develop a gynecologic cancer, but there are major risk factors for each type. The risk increases with age, family history, and certain lifestyles, but here are important facts every woman should know:
Know Your Body
Become familiar with what’s normal for you and pay attention to any changes occurring in your body. Watch for:
- Pelvis pressure, fullness or pain
- Abdominal bloating
- Abnormal bleeding
- Painful urination
- Pain during intercourse
- Changes in bowel and bladder patterns that continue and/or worsen.
Talk to your doctor about any symptoms that persist for several weeks.
Learn Your Family History
Ovarian cancer, the deadliest gynecologic cancer, is difficult to detect in its early stages. If you have ovarian or breast cancer in your family, your chances of getting both are greater. Inform your doctor if there are or have been relatives with ovarian or breast cancer. He or she may recommend that you have a genetic test.
Also, if someone in your family has or has had colon cancer or endometrial (uterine) cancer, your risk of developing some form of gynecologic cancer increases. A genetic test may help your doctor determine your risk and the steps you can take to reduce it.
Have Regular Screenings and Get Vaccinated
“Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that, in most instances, can be avoided by regular Pap test screening,” says Dr. Warshal. “Physicians use this test to identify precancerous changes in the cervix. That’s why intermittent Pap screening tests, with HPV co-testing in those 30 years of age or older, are so important. Finding precancerous changes in the cells gives us the opportunity to intervene and stop them from changing into cancer.”
“Unfortunately, there are no screening studies for ovarian, endometrial/uterine, or other gynecologic cancers, and that’s why we often see these cancers when they are more advanced and challenging to treat,” says Dr. Warshal.
Cervical cancer could be largely eliminated if both young girls and boys were vaccinated against the human papilloma virus (HPV). Strains of this virus are responsible for most cases of cervical cancer, as well as vulvar, vaginal and anal cancers, and some head and neck cancers.
Find a Specialist
If you are suspected to have a gynecologic cancer, been diagnosed with one or have a high risk of developing one of these cancers, choose a specialist in gynecologic oncology for your care and treatment.
MD Anderson Cooper’s Gynecologic Cancer Center is the largest and most experienced gynecologic oncology team in the region, with multiple office locations in South Jersey. With five fellowship-trained gynecologic oncologists and two gynecologic oncology nurse practitioners, the team provides women with access to advanced treatment options (including robotic surgery and targeted chemotherapy), groundbreaking clinical trials, and a full range of supportive care services.
Get a Second Opinion
Even when you have cancer, in most cases you have time to consider your treatment options and choose your treatment team. It’s common for patients to get a second opinion, and most doctors are comfortable with the request. Getting a second opinion can help you feel more confident about your diagnosis and treatment plan.
For more information or to schedule an appointment for a consultation with an MD Anderson Cooper Gynecologic Oncologist or Genetics Counselor, call 1.855.MDA.COOPER (1.855.632.2667).