Your Questions Answered

Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts. Gynecologic cancers begin in different places within a woman’s pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones.

  • Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. (The uterus is also called the womb.)
  • Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus.
  • Uterine cancer begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
  • Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, which is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
  • Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs.

Each gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs and symptoms, different risk factors (things that may increase your chance of getting a disease), and different prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers and risk can increase with age. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.

Center for Disease Control

There is no way to know for sure if you will get gynecologic cancer. That’s why it is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you so you can recognize the warning signs or symptoms of gynecologic cancer.

If you have vaginal bleeding that is unusual for you, talk to a doctor right away. You should also see a doctor if you have any other warning signs that last for two weeks or longer and are not normal for you. Symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.

Signs and symptoms are not the same for everyone and each gynecologic cancer (cervical, ovarian, uterine, and vulvar cancers) has its own signs and symptoms.

Of all the gynecologic cancers, only cervical cancer has a reliable screening test (Pap test) that can find this cancer early. The Pap test also helps prevent cervical cancer by finding precancers such as cell changes on the cervix that might become cancerous if they are not treated appropriately.

Since there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancers except cervical cancer, it is especially important to recognize warning signs and learn if there are things you can do to reduce your risk. Talk with your doctor if you believe that you are at an increased risk for gynecologic cancer. Ask what you might do to lower your risk and whether there are tests that you should take.

Center for Disease Control

If your doctor says that you have gynecologic cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist-a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.

There are several ways to treat gynecologic cancer. The treatment depends on the type of cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and/or radiation. People with cancer often get more than one kind of treatment.

  • Surgery: Doctors remove cancer tissue in an operation.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy involves the use of drugs to stop or slow the growth of cancer cells. Chemotherapy may cause side effects, but these often get better or go away when treatment is over. Chemotherapy drugs may be given in several forms including pills or through an IV (intravenous) injection.
  • Radiation: Radiation uses high-energy rays (similar to X-rays) to try to kill the cancer cells and stop them from spreading. The rays are aimed at the part of the body where the cancer is.

Different treatments may be provided by different doctors on your medical team.

Gynecologic oncologists are doctors who have been trained to treat cancers of a woman’s reproductive system. These physicians are specialists who provide comprehensive surgical and medical care for women with gynecological cancers.

Gynecologic oncologists often work with radiation oncologists who are doctors that treat cancers with radiation.

If you have gynecologic cancer, you may want to take part in a clinical trial. Clinical trials study new treatment options to see if they are safe and effective. Ask your gynecological oncologist about clinical trials for your diagnosis.

Additional information about clinical trials is provided on the sites listed below:

For information, visit NCI’s Complementary and Alternative Medicine. Be sure to talk to your doctor about your use of complementary and alternative medicine.

Center for Disease Control

A simple question can help you feel better, let you take better care of yourself, or save your life. The questions below can get you started.

  1. What is the test for?
  2. How many times have you done this procedure?
  3. When will I get the results?
  4. Why do I need this treatment?
  5. Are there any alternatives?
  6. What are the possible complications?
  7. Which hospital is best for my needs?
  8. How do you spell the name of that drug?
  9. Are there any side effects?
  10. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I’m already taking?

The Center for Disease Control published the “Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer” brochure to provide information about the five main types of gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar.

It encourages women to pay attention to their bodies and know what is normal for them so that they can recognize the warning signs of gynecologic cancers and seek medical care.

When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.

Click here to download the PDF brochure “Inside Knowledge: Get the Facts About Gynecologic Cancer”.

Center for Disease Control

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