It is estimated by the American Cancer Society that 113,520 women in the United States will be diagnosed with cancers of the reproductive organs this year. The best defense against gynecologic cancer starts with preventative measures.
Gynecologic cancer is the growth and spread of cancer cells in the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, and vulva— also known as the reproductive organs. Screenings are used to evaluate for disease before any symptoms. When cancer is detected early, there is a better chance of having more effective treatment and better outcomes. While there is not a single screening test for all gynecologic cancers, consider the ones that do exist:
Cervical cancer: Talk to your doctor about whether you are of an appropriate age for a Pap smear. This test can detect precancerous changes that occur in cells and can eventually become cervical cancer. Women between the ages of 21 and 65 are typically screened, but the frequency varies depending on age, family history and other factors.
Vaginal and vulva cancer: Currently there are no screening tests available for vaginal and vulva cancers for women who are not exhibiting symptoms, therefore, women should notify their doctor early if they develop any changes in the vaginal region. All women should discuss a routine examination schedule with their doctor, as other factors may influence the frequency of a gynecologic exam, related tests and vaccines. For instance, the human papillomavirus (HPV) test screens for HPV infection, which could cause cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancers.
HPV vaccine protects against most common types of HPV virus. Receiving an HPV vaccination can effectively prevent these cancers, therefore talk to your doctor about whether HPV vaccines are appropriate for you or your children.
Uterine cancer: The American Cancer Society recommends that all women at the time of menopause should learn about the risks and symptoms of endometrial (uterine) cancer. These symptoms may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic or abdominal pain and pressure.
Ovarian cancer: Unfortunately, there are no screening tests available for ovarian cancer. All women should undergo an annual pelvic exam, during which the ovaries are checked as part of the overall pelvic region. This exam however generally does not detect ovarian cysts unless they are very large. Doctors often rely on the common symptoms of abdominal pain, bloating or change in urinary or bowel function to guide them in the detection of ovarian cancer.
Maintaining a healthy weight, being physically active and eating a healthy diet also contribute to cancer prevention along with avoiding or quitting smoking. If you have concerns about your gynecologic health, don’t be embarrassed about what’s going on. Speak to your gynecologist or primary care doctor.
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