According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 83,000 women were diagnosed with some form of gynecological cancer in 2008, and over 27,000 lost their lives. The best defense against any health issue, but especially cancer, is prevention. That includes awareness about various forms of cancer, education on what to look for, and of course, living a lifestyle that supports good health.

What are the five main types of gynecological cancer?

Cervical: Located in the narrow, lower end of the uterus or womb, the cervix connects the vagina (or birth canal) to the upper portion of the uterus. Because screening and vaccines are readily available in many areas of North America, cervical cancer is highly preventable in most cases. When detected early, cervical caner is treatable and survivors usually enjoy a good quality of life.

Ovarian: Ovarian cancer is the most fatal of any form of female cancer. The ovaries are found on either side of the uterus. They are responsible for the production of eggs and the creation of female hormones.  However, treatments can be very effective if the cancer is found in the early stages. The only way to know for sure is to visit your health care professional.

Uterine: All women are at potential risk for uterine cancer, but the risk increases with age. The par-shaped organ located in your pelvis (or lower abdomen), the uterus houses the fetus during pregnancy. Endometrial cancer (which forms in the uterine lining, or endometrium) is the most common type of uterine cancer.

Vaginal & Vulvar: Though very rare, (less than 1,000 women died from it in 2008) vaginal and vulvar cancers are still an important health concern for women. Also known as the birth canal, the vagina is the hollow tube that connects from the outside of the body to the uterus. Often occurring in the inner folds of the labia, vulvar cancer can spread to other parts of the body including the vagina and uterus.

What are the warning signs?

Signs and symptoms can be different for each woman, but here are a few things to look for:

  • Changes in appearance of outer reproductive organs, such as rashes, warts, sores or discoloration
  • Needing to use the bathroom more or less frequently
  • Pain in the abdomen or back
  • Pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Irregular bleeding or discharge
  • Bloating
  • Itching

Paying attention to your body is the first step to recognizing and treating every form of gynecological cancer. If you know what’s normal for you, you’ll know when there’s a problem that needs to be checked out. Trust your instincts. It’s always better to visit your OBGYN for a false alarm than to ignore the problem and hope it goes away.

From all of us at the offices of Dr. Hessel, we wish you the best of health!