Gynecologic cancers are cancers that start in a woman’s reproductive organs. They include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Each year in September, we recognize gynecologic cancers, as a reminder for women to not only have an annual exam with their provider, but to also learn more about early detection and prevention.

In honor of Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, we’ve listed the common signs and symptoms of each cancer to look out for. Although, typically in the early stages there can be no symptoms, we encourage all women who experience any health changes or symptoms listed below, to see their providers.

Cervical Cancer:

The cervix is the lowest part of the uterus, connecting the vagina and uterus. Cervical cancer is mostly found in sexually active women, most commonly due to the HPV or Human Papillomavirus. Cervical pre-cancer or cancer can be detected using PAP smear screening and treated with surgery, chemotherapy or radiation.

Early stages of cervical cancer tend to not produce signs or symptoms, so it’s important to have regular pelvic exams and screening with PAP smears and HPV testing.

Common symptoms include:

  • Bleeding after intercourse
  • Pelvic pain
  • Pain with sexual intercourse
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge, bleeding or odor

Ovarian Cancer:

Ovarian Cancer begins in the woman’s ovaries. The ovaries produce eggs and hormones including estrogen and progesterone. Eight out of ten ovarian cancers occur sporadically, meaning it is not inherited. Twenty percent is related to a genetic mutation, like BRCA, which can be tested for if you have a strong family history. In both cases, prevention combines mainstream medical options like oral contraceptives as well as integrative lifestyle choices including exercise, nutrition and toxin avoidance.

Common symptoms of ovarian cancer can often be confused with non-cancerous conditions. It is important to follow up with your gynecologist if you feel these symptoms are worsening:

  • Persistent abdominal bloating and nausea
  • Loss of appetite or feeling fuller faster
  • Pressure in the pelvis or lower back
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Changes in bowl movements
  • Changes in menstruation

Uterine Cancer:

The uterus is a hollow, pear-shaped reproductive organ in the pelvis where a baby grows during pregnancy. There are two types of uterine cancer:

  1. The most common uterine cancer is endometrial cancer, which begins in the layer of cells that form the inner lining (endometrium) of the uterus.
  2. Uterine sarcoma is a much rarer type of uterine cancer that forms in the muscle and fiber part of the uterus.

Signs and symptoms of uterine cancer may include:

  • Vaginal bleeding after menopause
  • Vaginal bleeding or abnormal discharge (watery or blood-tinged) not related to periods
  • Pelvic pain
  • Difficult or painful urination

Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer:

Vaginal and vulvar cancers are rare, but can be associated with an HPV infection, similar to cervical cancer.

Common symptoms of vulvar cancer include:

  • Itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva that does not go away
  • Changes in the color of the skin of the vulva, than what is normal for you
  • Skin changes in the vulva, including what looks like a rash or warts
  • Sores, lumps, or ulcers on the vulva that do not go away
  • Pain in your pelvis, especially when you urinate or have sexual intercourse

Common symptoms of vaginal cancer include:

  • Vaginal discharge or bleeding that is not normal for you
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as having blood in the stool or urine, going to the bathroom more often than usual, or feeling constipated
  • Pain in your pelvis, especially when you urinate or have sexual intercourse

When it comes to diagnosing and treating gynecological cancer, you want a team of experts by your side that provide personalized treatment. Our center for Integrative Gynecologic Oncology, combines medical and surgical treatments which fit your personal situation and needs. This includes the use of molecular profiling of your cancer in order to recommend advanced targeted therapies.

Don’t let gynecologic cancer go undetected. If you have any symptoms or concerns, schedule an appointment with our Center for Integrative Gynecologic Oncology for compassionate, personalized care.

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About the Author

Dr. Steven Vasilev

Dr. Steven Vasilev, is the Medical Director of Integrative Medicine and Integrative Gynecologic Oncology at Providence Saint John’s Health Center, and Professor at the Saint John’s Cancer Institute. He is the only physician in the United States who has quadruple board certification in Gynecology, Oncology and Holistic, and Integrative Medicine. Learn More About Dr. Steven Vasilev.