The Five Types of Gynecological Cancer
When we talk about gynecological cancer, we’re talking about any cancer that originates in a woman’s reproductive organs. Cancers are identified according to the part of the body in which they first appear.
Gynecological cancers originate in different reproductive organs located in the pelvic area. This is the region below the stomach and between the hips. We’re going to talk about five types of cancers associated with the female reproductive organs.
Every year, thousands of women around the world are diagnosed with some type of cancer associated with their reproductive organs. Although it’s true that medicine is advancing daily and providing us with better treatments, it’s prevention, above all, that saves more lives.
We encourage you to read the following information and not to forget to have regular check-ups with your gynecologist. That’s because many cancers can occur without symptoms, hence the importance of gynecological tests, which are mostly painless.
Gynecological cancer awareness
There’ll never be a way to know for certain whether or not you’ll ever suffer from gynecological cancer. Although it’s true that genetics often gives a certain predisposition to some illnesses, each person is unique.
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Prevention can save lives. It also means that treatments are more effective in most cases. Even if you’re young and there’s no history of cancer in your family, if you suffer any discomfort, abdominal pain, or alterations in your menstrual cycle, make sure you make an appointment with your gynecologist.
Types of gynecological cancer
1. Cervical cancer
Studies suggest that cervical cancer is the most common type of cancer in the female population with a mortality rate of up to 80 percent in low-income countries. As a rule, the human papillomavirus (HPV) increases the chance of developing this type of cancer. Other risk factors include:
- Early onset of sexual intercourse.
- A high number of sexual partners.
- Multiple pregnancies.
- Sexually transmitted diseases.
- Use of oral contraceptives.
Every year, the incidence of cervical cancer has been declining, thanks to the use of condoms, cervical-vaginal cytology, and HPV screening tests.
Early diagnosis is often successful when it comes to treating the disease and limiting tumor growth. These are the symptoms of cervical cancer:
- Intermenstrual bleeding.
- Increased vaginal discharge with small traces of blood.
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse.
- Abdominal pain and discomfort in the lower back.
It should be noted that these symptoms may also be related to other diseases, such as infections. Nevertheless, they should act as an alert to visit your doctor.
2. Ovarian cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer occurs when cells in the ovaries begin to grow out of control. In fact, cells in almost any part of the body can become cancerous and spread.
Research affirms that this is the third most common gynecological cancer and represents the fourth cause of cancer death in women. Its histologic varieties include epithelial, germinal, and stromal types. Epithelial cancer constitutes 90 percent of all cases.
Ovarian cancer usually appears in women between the ages of 50 and 70. However, due to the high incidence of this cancer, even if you’re younger, you shouldn’t neglect any possible symptoms.
The causes of this type of gynecological cancer aren’t yet known. Experts claim that it could be due to hormonal or reproductive factors, diet, tobacco, and being overweight. Similarly, family history tends to increase the incidence by between ten and 15 percent. Other risk factors are:
- Early menarche.
- Late menopause.
- Mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.
In most cases, this gynecological cancer doesn’t show any specific symptoms. For this reason, it only tends to be diagnosed when it’s in the advanced stages. Some of the symptoms that can appear in ovarian cancer are the following:
- Discomfort in the lower abdomen, similar to indigestion.
- Increased urinary frequency.
- Pelvic pain.
- Anemia and weight loss.
- Lack of appetite and tiredness.
- Increased body hair due to hormonal alteration.
3. Uterine cancer
There are two types of uterine cancer. These are endometrial cancer, which is usually the most common, and uterine sarcoma, which is rare. Endometrial cancer is often curable.
Like cervical cancer, according to the ACS, uterine cancer begins when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. As we mentioned earlier, cells in almost any part of the body can develop into cancer and spread to other areas of the body.
Some studies state that endometrial cancer has an incidence of five cases per 100,000 women in Latin America. It’s more common in the United States and Europe. It generally affects women between 55 and 65 years of age. The most frequent risk factors are:
- Late menopause.
- Early menarche.
- Overweight and obesity.
- Use of hormone replacement therapy with estrogens.
- Family history of uterine cancer.
- Problems in pregnancy.
This type of cancer is quite common among gynecological cancers. The symptoms are:
- Inter-menstrual bleeding.
- Increased vaginal discharge with traces of blood.
- Bleeding after intercourse
You also might be interested to read: Which Hormones Influence the Menstrual Cycle?
4. Vaginal Cancer
The American Cancer Society defines this cancer as follows: “Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina. There are many different types of vaginal cancer, but the most common is called squamous cell carcinoma. It starts in the lining of the vagina”.
According to research, vaginal neoplasms have a low incidence of less than two percent of all malignant gynecologic cancers. HPV infection increases the chance of developing this type of cancer. In addition, other associated risk factors are:
- History of cervical cancer.
- Depressed or suppressed immune system.
- Cigarette consumption.
- Recurrent vaginal infections.
Although it also has an important genetic component, vaginal cancer isn’t as common as those mentioned above. There are two types of this gynecological cancer:
Squamous cell carcinoma. It forms in the squamous cells that line the vagina. It progresses slowly, with almost no symptoms until it reaches other organs.
Adenocarcinoma. It starts in the glandular cells of the vagina that produce and release fluids such as vaginal mucus. It’s more common in postmenopausal women.
The symptoms of this type of cancer are:
- Bleeding that’s unrelated to menstruation.
- Pain in the pelvis or back.
- Pain or discomfort when urinating.
- The appearance of a lump in the vagina.
5. Vulvar cancer
According to the ACS, vulvar cancer most often affects the inner edges of the labia majora or labia minora. Less frequently, it starts in the clitoris or Bartholin’s glands.
This neoplasm represents the fourth most frequent cause of gynecological cancer after that of the endometrium, cervix, and ovary. Squamous cancer is the main cancer type of this group, with up to 90 percent of cases, according to studies.
This type of cancer isn’t particularly frequent and mainly affects the area of the labia majora. It has a slow evolution. Aspects that should be taken into account are as follows:
- Having an infection caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Having a history of abnormal Pap tests (also known as Pap tests or Pap smears).
- Lumps on the vulva or small strange masses, like warts of a different color.
- Itching and discomfort in the vulva area.
- Bleeding that’s unrelated to menstruation.
The treatment of gynecological cancer
In general, early detection of neoplasms of the female genital tract increases the prognosis of treatment. Therefore, a timely diagnosis often determines a greater survival rate and a better quality of life for the patient.
Forms of treatment include surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. However, the therapeutic plan will depend on the general condition of the patient and the characteristics of the cancerous lesion.
Surgery. Removes the affected tissue. It’s usually used in the early stages of the disease when the tumor is small or hasn’t spread.
Radiotherapy. Uses high-intensity radiation to kill tumor cells. It’s applied over a certain period of time and may cause adverse symptoms.
Chemotherapy. Drugs given orally or intravenously are used to shrink and kill cancer cells. They’re applied in cycles of several days duration. In general, they’re used in advanced stages of cancer or when it’s spread to other areas of the body.
Is it possible to prevent gynecological cancer?
Like other types of cancer, it’s possible to reduce the chance of getting gynecological cancer by using different strategies. Most seek to neutralize the risk factors related to each type of cancer that we mentioned above. Some prevention measures for female genital cancer are as follows:
- Having regular screening tests, such as cytology.
- Going for a check-up with a gynecologist on a regular basis.
- Getting vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV).
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Avoiding alcohol intake.
- Reducing the consumption of cigarettes and tobacco.
- Maintaining a healthy diet, free of saturated fats and sugars.
- Performing physical exercise, at least two to three times a week.
A deadly disease not to be taken lightly
Gynecological cancer represents any tumor that appears in the female genital tract, including the uterus, vagina, ovaries, and vulva. This disease can show non-specific symptoms in the early stages, so it’s important to be aware of any unusual manifestation.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain are common symptoms in all types of gynecological cancer. If you experience either of these, don’t hesitate in seeking medical help. Specialist doctors are the only ones qualified to guide the treatment of this deadly disease.
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