About Gynaecological Cancers

Gynaecology deals with the health and disease of the female reproductive system. Gynaecological cancer is a broad term that covers cancers originating in the uterus, cervix, ovaries, vagina or vulva. While most gynaecological cancers affect women over 50 years, cervical cancer may occur in women as young as 25 years. Since women undergo significant hormonal changes throughout their lives until menopause, most of these cancers are affected by these hormonal variations. Of the five gynaecological cancers, it is easy to screen for cervical cancer, making early detection possible. Gynaecological cancer treatment options vary for each type of cancer. While all women are at risk of developing gynaecological cancers, some women have a greater risk. Gynaecological cancer life expectancy depends on the type of cancer, its grade, stage at which it is diagnosed, women’s age, and overall health.

Symptoms

The symptoms of gynaecological cancers depend upon their type. Knowing the early signs of these cancers helps in diagnosing them in time. Common gynaecological cancer symptoms include:

 

  • Pain in the pelvic region or abdomen
  • Unusual or abnormal vaginal bleeding 
  • Bleeding between periods or after menopause
  • Itching of the vulva
  • Vulvar changes such as ulcers, warts, or a rash
  • Bloating
  • Increased urination
  • Burning during urination
  • Changes in bowel habits (constipation or diarrhoea)
  • Pain in the lower back region

Other symptoms that are not unique to gynaecological cancers but may occur in women with them are:

  • Constant fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Persistent nausea
  • Changes in the breast
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles in premenopausal women

The signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers may not be the same for everyone. But, they can be a guide for your oncologist on how to treat gynaecological cancer.

Diagnosis

If you are experiencing one or more of the symptoms mentioned above, you must visit your gynaecologist immediately. Based on your medical and family history, signs and presenting symptoms, your doctor may recommend a few tests that can help diagnose gynaecological cancers. These tests include:

 

  • Pelvic examination
  • Ultrasound
  • Imaging tests like MRI or CT scan
  • A colposcopy or hysteroscopy
  • Biopsy
  • Tumour marker tests

 

Screening tests like the Pap smear and HPV test are highly effective in detecting cervical cancer even before symptoms appear. However, since this is not possible for other gynaecological cancers, women need to monitor any warning signs.

 

If you believe you are at an increased risk for gynaecological cancers due to your family history, speak to your doctor about it.

Treatment

If you are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer, your doctor and healthcare team will devise a comprehensive treatment plan based on your cancer type, location, grade and stage. Standard gynaecological cancer treatment options are:

 

  • Surgery: The affected organ is removed entirely, sometimes with nearby affected lymph nodes.
  • Chemotherapy: Uses strong drugs to kill cancer cells. 
  • Radiation therapy: Uses high-speed x-rays to kill cancer cells.

 

Though chemotherapy and gynaecological cancer treatment are often spoken of together, here’s how they may be treated stage-wise:

 

  • Early stages (stage 1 and stage 2) of gynaecological cancers are usually treated using surgery and radiation therapy or chemotherapy. 
  • Advanced stage 3 and stage 4 gynaecological cancer may require surgery and a combination of radiation therapy and chemotherapy to relieve the patient’s symptoms and prolong their life.

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