September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Because ALL women are at risk for developing a gynecologic cancer, it’s important for women to understand these diseases and what we can do to prevent them or lower our risk of developing them.
- Gynecologic cancers are cancers that start in a woman’s reproductive organs. The main types include cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer and vaginal and vulvar cancer.
- Every year, more than 80,000 women in the United States are told they have a gynecologic cancer, and more than 25,000 women will die from it.
- The risk of developing a gynecologic cancer increases with age.
- When gynecologic cancers are found and treated early, treatment is most effective and often curative.
Although there is no guaranteed way to prevent gynecologic cancer, read below 6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Gynecologic Cancer, to minimize your risk. Also, read about NFCR-supported scientist Dr. Robert Bast, who has dedicated his entire career to the early detection of ovarian cancer. [in post link to info on Dr. Bast at the end of the post]
6 Ways to Reduce Your Risk of Gynecologic Cancer
- Women should have their first Pap smear by age 21.
The Pap smear or Pap test looks for abnormal cell changes in the cervix to detect cervical cancer in its early stages. All women aged 21-65 should get regular Pap smears as directed by their doctor. Most invasive cervical cancers are found in women who have not had regular Pap tests.
Research has shown that over the last 30 years, the death rate for cervical cancer patients has gone down by more than 50%— an achievement many experts say is a testament to the increased use of the Pap test and the HPV vaccine.
- Protect yourself from HPV.
Human papilloma virus (also known as HPV) infections are the main causes of cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers. Talk to your doctor about getting the HPV test and ask about the HPV vaccine which protects against the types of HPV that most often cause these cancers. Also, limit your number of sexual partners and, when you do have sex, use a condom.
The CDC recommends that 11- to 12-year-old boys and girls receive two doses of HPV vaccine at least six months apart (recently revised from the previous recommended three doses.) Teens and young adults who start the series later, at ages 15 through 26 years, need three doses of HPV vaccine to protect against cancer-causing HPV infection.
- Don’t smoke.
Smoking increases the risk of at least 14 different cancers including cervical, ovarian, vaginal and vulvar cancers. It also damages nearly every organ and organ system in your body. Quitting reduces your risk, even if you’ve smoked for years. Talk to your doctor about strategies or stop-smoking aids that can help you quit.
- Make healthy choices.
To reduce your risk of developing a gynecologic cancer and other cancers, it’s important to maintain a healthy weight, be active and eat a healthy diet consisting of fruit, vegetables, lean proteins and whole grains.
For more healthy living tips and nutritious, cancer-fighting recipes, visit our Cancer-Fighting Lifestyle section of our website.
- Contact your doctor if you notice any of these symptoms.
Most gynecologic cancers do not cause signs and symptoms early on. With that said, if you experience any of these symptoms, see your doctor right away as these are potential warning signs.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Abdominal or back pain
- Changes in bathroom habits (increased urination, constipation, diarrhea)
- Itching or burning of the vulva
- Changes in vulva color or skin (rash, sores, warts, ulcers)
- Share your family history with your doctor.
Approximately 5 to 10% of all cancers are considered hereditary, which means you may be at greater risk for some cancers if you have a personal or family history of cancer or certain diseases.
Genetic testing is now available to see if you carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which could put you in a high-risk category for ovarian and breast cancer. If you carry a genetic mutation associated to Lynch Syndrome, a heredity condition that increases your risk of colon cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, stomach cancer, breast cancer, pancreatic cancer, urinary tract cancer and more, a genetic test may detect that as well.
Please show your support by spreading awareness AND by taking action against gynecologic cancer. Support cancer research today!
Learn about NFCR-funded scientist Dr. Robert Bast
Improving early detection techniques is important for many types of cancer, but it is especially important for ovarian cancer, as it is likely the most effective way to achieve a cure. In fact, the five-year survival rate for ovarian cancer is above 90% if found during the earliest stage. Unfortunately, only 15% of cases are diagnosed at this stage, making ovarian cancer a notorious “silent killer”. Throughout his entire career, NFCR- funded scientist Dr. Robert Bast has been working to change that. Read more about Dr. Bast’s cutting-edge research and accomplishments in the fight against ovarian cancer.
The Pioneering Gene Work of Dr. Mary-Claire King