Signs and Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

5 min read

Signs and Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancer You Shouldn’t Ignore

Gynecologic cancer is a term used to describe cancers that originate in the female reproductive system. The five primary types of gynecologic cancer are ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. At this time, screening is only available for cervical cancer. So, what can you do to detect the other types of gynecologic cancer? 

There are some symptoms of gynecologic cancers. They can vary depending on the affected area of the body, and they may start rather subtly. Symptoms can also be similar to other non-cancerous reproductive conditions. That’s why it’s critical that you understand what to look for and when to report any unusual symptoms to your doctor, even if you think they are insignificant.

Seven Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers

It is natural for your body to experience changes over time, especially as you approach menopause. But if you notice significant or persistent changes, they could indicate an underlying problem. Although many of the signs and symptoms mentioned below may not necessarily be due to cancer, it's crucial to consult your doctor to discuss the changes you are experiencing. Your physician can use the information you provide and the results from any necessary tests to accurately diagnose any issue.

1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge is a common indication of all gynecologic cancers except vulvar cancer. It is especially common in endometrial cancer, the most common type of uterine cancer, and is experienced by over 90% of women diagnosed with it. There are quite a few different types of abnormal bleeding, including: 

  • bleeding between menstrual cycles
  • heavy bleeding
  • bleeding during sex
  • blood-tinged discharge
  • bleeding after menopause

More than likely, you know what’s normal for you. If you experience any unusual bleeding or spotting, please schedule an appointment with your gynecologist or a primary care physician for an examination. Be sure you tell them about this symptom and any others you might notice

2. Sudden weight loss

Women who suddenly lose weight without making changes to their diet or exercise habits should consult their doctor. This can be related to something other than cancer, but in any case, there is likely a medical condition as the root cause that should be addressed.

3. Changes in appetite and digestion

If you notice that you feel full after eating only a small amount or you have a loss of appetite, take note of how often this happens over the course of a few weeks. Also, if you suddenly notice frequent indigestion or nausea, this can be cause for concern as they can be related to medical conditions, including ovarian cancer and other non-reproductive cancers.  

4. Abdominal or pelvic discomfort

Many women with ovarian or endometrial cancer experience recurring pain or discomfort in the pelvic or abdominal region. These symptoms may include bloating, gas, indigestion, pressure, or cramps. Cramps can be a regular part of the monthly cycle. However, cramping after menopause should not be dismissed. It's important to note that these symptoms may also have non-cancerous causes, making it easy to dismiss them as nothing important. If you are experiencing these symptoms, along with other warning signs, schedule an appointment with your doctor.

5. Urgent or frequent need to urinate

If you're feeling the need to urinate urgently or more frequently than usual, it could be a sign of ovarian or vaginal cancer. Pay attention to any noticeable changes in your bathroom habits, particularly if you're not pregnant or haven't increased your fluid intake. If you notice anything unusual, discussing it with your doctor is important.

6. Pain or discomfort in the vulva

Vulvar cancer is a rare condition that typically develops gradually. Therefore, it is important to be aware of any unusual physical symptoms. Vulvar symptoms may include pain, burning, itching, or tenderness in the vulva. Additionally, changes in vulva color or the presence of rashes, sores, or warts on the skin should be taken note of and discussed with your gynecologist. 

7. Pain during sex

There are a few causes of pain during sex, including vaginal dryness, as well as ovarian or advanced cervical cancer. If you’re sure that dryness, a common condition after menopause, is not the cause of pain, talk to your doctor. Even if it’s not a symptom of gynecologic cancer, your doctor may still be able to help you with this condition.

Can You Prevent Gynecologic Cancer?

It is important to understand that there is no foolproof way to prevent gynecologic cancer, but there are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk. 

  • Know your body well to identify anything that is out of the ordinary for you.
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle, such as exercising regularly and consuming a balanced diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
  • Schedule regular gynecologic exams. This will include screening tests, such as a Pap test for cervical cancer and an HPV test, which will tell your doctor if the type of human papillomavirus that causes cervical cancer is present. If it is, the doctor may suggest more frequent screening tests. 
  • Know your family history of gynecologic cancer. Up to 25% of all ovarian cancer is related to an inherited genetic mutation. If you have a family history of gynecologic cancer, talk to your doctor about the best next steps for you. This may include genetic testing to see if you have inherited the genetic change related to ovarian cancer.  

Diagnosing Gynecologic Cancers

You are your own best advocate for your health. If you notice something unusual and it doesn’t resolve itself within a few weeks, schedule a doctor’s appointment. A gynecologist is a good place to start. They will do an exam, run tests, and possibly request imaging to see if there are any growths or other signs of cancer in the reproductive organs.

If cancer is found, usually through a biopsy of tissue that’s been removed and examined by a pathologist, a gynecologic oncologist will typically lead the cancer treatment process. This can include a combination of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy, and/or surgery. Each patient’s treatment plan will vary depending on the type of gynecologic cancer and its extent, called the stage.

Treating Gynecologic Cancers in the Albany Area

Our team of gynecologic specialists at New York Hematology Oncology is dedicated to supporting you through your cancer care journey. Our patients have access to the latest therapies, including clinical trials, close to home and near their support system of family and friends.

If you have recently been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, schedule an appointment for a consultation. We are also available to provide second opinions on a treatment recommendation. 

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