Signs and Symptoms of Gynecological Cancer

Are You at Risk of Gynecologic Cancer?

Certain cancers — including cancer of the cervix, ovaries and uterus — are known collectively as gynecological cancers. These cancers affect only women, and if you’re a woman, you’re at risk.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is the most common of the gynecological cancers — and also the most preventable. Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can be easily passed between people during sex. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least half of sexually active people will become infected with HPV at some point.

Infection does not always lead to cervical cancer and, in many cases, will clear up on its own. However, if it does not, cancer may develop over time. When found early, cervical cancer is highly treatable.

Are you at risk of cervical cancer?

Cervical cancer generally affects women age 30 and older, and six of 10 cases occur in women who have not had a Pap test in the past five years.

Warning signs and symptoms

Cervical cancer has no symptoms in its early stages. While HPV infection can cause genital warts in some women, the most important warning sign is an abnormal Pap test result.

Prevention and screening

  • Regular Pap tests are the most effective way to detect cervical cancer at its earliest stages.
  • An HPV test can also detect the virus.
  • The HPV vaccine can help protect against the types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer. It is most effective when given between the ages of 11 and 26.
  • Limit your sexual partners and use condoms to help prevent HPV infection.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is less common than cervical cancer, but is more likely to be fatal if not treated early. Treatment depends on the stage of the disease, or how advanced it is, and individual health factors.

Are you at risk of ovarian cancer?

Ovarian cancer generally affects women over age 40. Most cases are in women age 55 or older. Although most women who develop ovarian caner are not at high risk, your risk may be increased if you have:

  • Close family members who have had ovarian cancer
  • Had breast, uterine, or colorectal cancer or endometriosis
  • An Eastern European (Ashkenazi) Jewish background
  • Never given birth or have had trouble getting pregnant

Warning signs and symptoms

As ovarian cancer progresses, symptoms may arise. While many of these can be caused by other, less serious conditions, call your doctor if you experience any of the following every day for two weeks or more:

  • Pelvic, abdominal or back pain
  • Fatigue
  • Bloating
  • Needing to urinate urgently or very often
  • Upset stomach or heartburn
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding

Uterine Cancer

There are several types of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer, the most common, forms in the endometrium, or the lining of the uterus. As with other gynecological cancers, treatment depends on how advanced the disease is and other factors

Are you at risk of uterine cancer?

The risk of uterine cancer increases with age. It occurs most often during menopause or after. Your risk may also be higher if you:

  • Are older than 50
  • Are obese
  • Take estrogen without also taking progesterone
  • Have had trouble getting pregnant
  • Take Tamoxifen for breast cancer treatment
  • Have a family history of uterine, colon, or ovarian cancer

Warning signs and symptoms

The most common symptom is abnormal vaginal bleeding, such as prolonged or unusually heavy periods, bleeding between periods, or bleeding after menopause. Other warning signs may include:

  • Difficult or painful urination
  • Pain during intercourse
  • Pain in the pelvic area