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Gynecologic Cancer Awareness

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness

The first line of defense against any disease is awareness. This is the major purpose of Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month campaigns worldwide; recognizing the need for awareness about the disease, and educate people to identify the symptoms and know what to do when they have these symptoms. It is with this aim that cancer organizations all around the world consider September as the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. Gynecologic Cancer is an umbrella term used to denote all the types of cancers that start in a woman’s reproductive organs.

There are mainly five types of gynecologic cancer-

  • Cervical Cancer
  • Ovarian Cancer
  • Uterine Cancer
  • Vaginal cancer
  • Vulvar cancer

There are also cancers such as Gestational Trophoblastic Disease and Primary Peritoneal cancer that come under Gynecologic Cancer, but these are comparatively rare occurrences. The Gynecologic Cancer Awareness provides an excellent opportunity to put the spotlight on this disease and provide crucial information on the signs, risk factors, prevention strategies and treatment options of the disease.

Gynecologic Cancers are often hard to diagnose and are mostly diagnosed in the third or fourth stage of cancer. Therefore, recognizing the silent symptoms is very important to early diagnosis and cure.

Gynecologic Cancer Symptoms

Each type of Gynecologic Cancer has different symptoms, most of them are hard to recognize. Therefore it is very crucial that women pay attention to their body and take note of the slightest abnormalities. If these abnormalities stay for a longer period, then you should consult a doctor. Some of the common signs of Gynecologic Cancer, according to the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention are

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pressure
  • Bloating
  • Itching and burning of the vulva
  • Changes in bathroom habits
  • Changes in the colour of the vulva

Types of Gynecologic Cancers

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer is the most common type of Gynecologic Cancer among women. It is the cancer that forms in the different tissues of the uterus, the most common being endometrial cancer.

Risk Factors of Uterine Cancer

  • Risk increases with age
  • Obesity
  • Taking estrogen alone as hormone replacement
  • Family history of cancer
  • Most common in women after menopause

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is the cancer that starts in the ovaries. While it accounts for about 3% of cancers in women, Ovarian Cancer is the leading cause of death among women due to cancer. While Ovarian Cancer can be easily treated if diagnosed at an early stage, only 20% of cases are found at this stage. This is because most of the symptoms of Ovarian Cancer are hard to find, and there aren’t any screening tests that are recommended for women without any symptoms. Due to this, Ovarian Cancer is also known as the silent Cancer.

Risk Factors of Ovarian Cancer

  • Risk increases with age
  • Family history of cancer
  • Inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
  • Endometriosis
  • Obesity

Cervical Cancer

Cervical Cancer occurs in the tissues of the cervix. There are usually no symptoms of Cervical Cancer, but can be found with a screening test called Pap Test or HPV Test. At later stages, the symptoms such as vaginal discharge or bleeding and pain during sex may appear, which should be immediately consulted. The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) causes almost all Cervical Cancers, and therefore at the early stages it can be treated with an HPV vaccine.

Risk Factors of Cervical Cancer

  • Being infected with HPV
  • Having HIV
  • Smoking
  • Using birth control pills for a long time
  • Having given birth to three or more children
  • Having several sexual partners

Vaginal Cancer

The cancer that starts in the vagina is Vaginal Cancer. It is rare form of cancer with a survival rate. Pain and abnormal vaginal bleeding are the most common symptoms of vaginal cancers.

Risk Factors of Vaginal Cancer

  • Infected with HPV for a long time.
  • History of cervical precancer or cervical cancer
  • History of vulvar or vaginal precancer
  • Weak immune system
  • Smoking

Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer is a comparatively rare disease in which cancer forms in the tissues of the vulva, the female genitalia. Vulvar cancer accounts for about 5 % of all gynecologic cancers and is mostly associated with HPV infection, just like cervical or vaginal cancer. Vulvar Cancers can be detected in regular gynecologic checks-up and can be treated with HPV vaccines.

Risk Factors of Vulvar Cancer

  • Infected with HPV for a long time
  • Chronic vulvar itching or burning
  • History of cervical precancer or cervical cancer
  • History of vulvar or vaginal precancer
  • Infected with HIV
  • Smoking

Gynecologic Cancer Screening

The comforting factor about Gynecologic Cancers is that regular screenings can find most of these cancers early enough, and early diagnosis of Gynecologic Cancers can aid in a better prognosis. Also, some gynecologic cancers such as cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers can be prevented with the HPV vaccine and lifestyle changes.

There are several tests, such as the Pap Test and the HPV test, which can diagnose these cancers quickly. The HPV test looks for HPV infection and can be used in combination with Pap test to screen for cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.

The most effective method to screen for Gynecologic Cancers is to be aware of your body so that even the slightest changes can be noted.

Gynecologic Cancer Treatment

Gynecologic cancers have several treatment procedures that differ according to factor such as the kind of cancer, its stage, area of growth and age and vitals of the patient. The most common treatment procedures used are:

Surgery

Surgeons remove the cancer tissues in operation. In most cases, this will be followed by cycles of chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

Chemotherapy

Using drugs to eliminate the cancer cells. The drugs can be orally taken or administered through the veins. Intraperitoneal Chemotherapy is an innovative treatment procedure that delivers the drugs directly into the abdominal cavity using a catheter. This reduces drug exposure to healthy cells.

Immunotherapy

This treatment procedure aims to stimulate the immune system to help the body fight cancer cells better.

Hormone therapy

Treatment procedure that uses hormones to treat and prevent recurrences of cancer cells.

Radiation therapy

In this treatment therapy, high energy rays are used to kill the cancer. It can be used as a primary or post-operative method of treatment. Brachytherapy is an advanced kind of Radiotherapy which kills the cancer cells without affecting the surrounding organs.

Need for Gynecologic Cancer Month Awareness

The treatment procedures of Gynecologic Cancer are becoming more innovative and better with focus given on minimizing the effects of the treatment on the nearby healthy organs and tissues. Extensive research is focused on saving the reproductive organs with minimal damage in younger women who haven’t conceived yet, giving them a chance to become mothers.

The increased awareness has successfully brought down the death rates of Gynecologic Cancers such as Cervical Cancer in the last 40 years. Large number of women are getting screened and doing Pap Smears. This is just the beginning. As more women get screened and diagnosed early, cancer can be treated as any other regular disease, and this is the objective aimed through awareness campaigns like the Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month.

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