Gynecological cancers: time to shed shame and start talking about them!

As per the national estimates, about 220,000 women will be diagnosed with one of the three common gynecologic cancers this year. That's one case about every two and a half minutes. These types of malignancies originate in the female reproductive organs, most commonly the cervix, endometrium, or ovaries.

Almost half of them are preventable. Still, there is a high mortality among Indian females due to late diagnosis and inappropriate treatment. September is celebrated as national gynecological cancer awareness month. Let's learn about these common cancers in females, as prevention is better than cure.

Cervical cancer facts:

Cervical cancer is the most common gynecological cancer in India. It is most frequently diagnosed between the ages of 35 and 50, but younger and older women are at risk too. It is the only gynecologic cancer for which there is a preventative anti-cancer vaccine and effective screening tests that identify precancer or cancer early, when treatment is likely to work best. We can eradicate cervical cancer with routine use of the HPV vaccine and Pap or HPV cervical cancer screenings.

Vaccinating girls before they become sexually active is ideal for preventing cervical pre-cancer and cancer. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended at ages 13 to 14, and it can be given between ages 9 and 26.

Regular screening through HPV testing (primary HPV test) or at the same time as the Pap test (co-testing) remains important in preventing cervical cancer starting at the age of 30.

Many women will have no symptoms. When present, the symptoms of cervical cancer often overlap with common (benign) gynecologic issues and may include:

  • Abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • Abdominal and/or pelvic pain
  • Bleeding after sex
  • Excessive discharge (usually colorless or sometimes white)

Endometrial cancer facts

Endometrial cancer is a disease that affects the lining of the uterus (where your period comes from). The majority of patients are diagnosed after the age of 50. The incidence of endometrial cancer is rising primarily due to our modern-day lifestyle( obesity and lack of physical activity). By improving our diet and adding 30 minutes of exercise every day, we could cut the rates of endometrial cancer significantly (and also decrease the rates of postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer, and other cancer types as well). Reduce your risk of endometrial cancer by:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels

Symptoms of endometrial cancer:

  • Postmenopausal bleeding is the most common symptom of endometrial cancer and should be promptly evaluated.

Ovarian and fallopian tube cancer facts

Ovarian and fallopian tube cancers most commonly start on the surface of the ovaries or in the tubes that carry eggs from the ovary to the uterus (womb). Ovarian cancer is rare in women younger than 40, and most develop after menopause. Up to 15% of ovarian cancers are a part of family cancer syndromes resulting from inherited changes, called mutations, in certain genes.

The most common genetic mutation for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is BRCA, which can be detected by a blood or saliva sample.

The symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Pelvic and/or abdominal pain
  • Bloating
  • Urgency or frequency to urinate
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly

These same symptoms occur more commonly for reasons other than cancer. When they are caused by ovarian cancer, they usually represent a significant change, occur more often, and are more severe. Women experiencing these symptoms for more than a few weeks should be evaluated by their health care team.

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