Q: What are the warning signs of gynecologic cancer?
A: The warning signs differ depending on the type; however, the most common are abnormal menstrual bleeding, vaginal bleeding after sexual intercourse, significant weight gain or loss, early satiety (feeling of fullness after only eating a small amount of food) and significant bloating.
These signs don’t necessarily mean that you have a type of gynecologic cancer. It is important to always discuss any unusual signs or symptoms that you are experiencing with your doctor before making any assumptions.
Q: Who is at risk for gynecologic cancer?
A: While uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers affect older women, women of all ages are at risk for gynecologic cancer, which is why routine well-woman exams and screenings are so important, especially if you have any of these types of cancers in your family history.
Risk factors can include smoking, immunosuppression, HPV infection, obesity and a family history of any gynecologic and colorectal cancer.
Q: How is gynecologic cancer diagnosed?
A: Some types of gynecologic cancer are diagnosed through routine well-woman exams and screenings; however, there is no reliable test to screen for ovarian, uterine, vulvar and vaginal cancer in women who do not show any signs or symptoms. So, what does that mean for women? Dr. Mowzoon says, "pay attention to your body, understand what is normal for you and talk to your doctor. Remember, prevention is key with any type of cancer."
Q: Are there any types of gynecologic cancer that can be prevented early on?
A: One type of cancer that is preventable is cervical cancer. "We can prevent this with screenings – early HPV detection and Pap smears are key," Dr. Mowzoon states. Pap smears detect changes in cervical cells and start at age 21. HPV testing looks for the human papillomavirus. The HPV vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent cervical cancer and is recommended for everyone from age 11-26 years old, although some women may be eligible from 27-45 years old.
Q: What is the recommended treatment for gynecologic cancer?
A: If you have an abnormal or concerning lab or screening result, your doctor will speak with you first about it, then refer you to a specialist – a gynecologic oncologist – who specializes in cancers of the female reproductive tract.
Your doctor and the gynecologic oncologist will work closely with you to create a treatment plan that’s designed specifically for you and your needs. You will not go through this journey alone.
Remember these simple steps to help prevent gynecologic cancer:
- Schedule an appointment for your annual well-woman exam and screenings.
- Keep an open dialogue with your doctor about any warning signs or changes you are experiencing.
- Spread the word by reminding your family, friends and colleagues to schedule their annual well-woman exam and screenings.