September 16, 2016

Knowledge Is Power – Know the Facts About Gynecological Cancer

Shutterstock Women African American GYN CancerBy Deanna L. Thompson

September is National Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, a good time to increase your knowledge about the three main types of cancer that can develop in a woman’s reproductive organs: endometrial, ovarian and cervical.

In general, your best strategy for preventing these cancers is to make healthy lifestyle choices, know your family medical history, be aware of and let your doctor know about changes in your body and schedule regular checkups with your OB/GYN, said Julie Farrow, MD, an OB/GYN at Mission Primary Care–Highlands. “Find a provider you are comfortable talking to who understands your risk factors,” Dr. Farrow said. “And follow your doctor’s recommendations.”

Cervical cancer

12,042 — Number of U.S. women diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012

Incidence has decreased 50 percent in the last 30 years, thanks mainly to Pap smear screening, which detects cell changes before they become cancer

Common symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

Prevention/detection tips:

  • Avoid early intercourse and limit number of sexual partners
  • Don’t smoke
  • Follow recommended schedule for Pap smears beginning at age 21
  • Vaccinate boys and girls beginning at age 11 or 12 against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the cause of most cervical cancer

Ovarian cancer

20,785 — Number of U.S. women diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2012

Usually diagnosed after menopause, at a mean age of 58

Common symptoms:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Back pain or pain down the legs
  • Change in bowel or bladder habits
  • Increasing abdominal girth without change in weight

Prevention/detection tips:

  • There is no known preventative, but a CA125 screening blood test and a transvaginal ultrasound are recommended every six months for high-risk women

Endometrial (uterine) cancer

49,154 — Number of U.S. women diagnosed with endometrial cancer in 2012

Usually diagnosed after menopause, at a mean age of 63

Common symptoms:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Pelvic pain or pressure

Prevention/detection tips:

  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Promptly seek help for abnormal bleeding

Source for 2012 statistics: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Need to connect with an OB/GYN? Visit mission-health.org/providerdirectory to find a practice and a provider near you.

Julie Farrow, MD, is an OB/GYN at Mission Primary Care – Highlands.

(828) 526-5045

This story originally appeared in Mission Health’s My Healthy Life magazine.

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