September is Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month
September is National Ovarian and Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. This is the perfect time for women to schedule their well-woman exams and determine if they—or someone they love—are due for an important preventive health screening.
Ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women, accounting for more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system. Over 21,000 women in the U.S. will receive a new diagnosis of ovarian cancer this year, and nearly 14,000 will die from the disease. A woman’s risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78.
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable cancers, when diagnosed early. Each year, over 14,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with a new case of invasive cervical cancer. Around 4,300 will die from the disease. A Pap smear test can find changes in the cervix before cancer develops.
Cervical cancer tends to occur in midlife. Most cases are found in women younger than age 50, however, many older women do not realize that the risk of developing cervical cancer is still present as they age.
In the United States, cancer of the endometrium (the lining of the uterus) is the most common cancer of the female reproductive organs. It is estimated that over 66,000 women will be diagnosed with cancer of the body of the uterus and nearly 13,000 will die from the disease.
Uterine/endometrial cancer, which can be difficult to diagnose in its early stages, affects mainly post-menopausal women. The most common symptoms are unusual bleeding, spotting, or other discharge (especially after menopause) and should be reported to your doctor.
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers
By comparison, vaginal and vulvar cancers are more rare. Only about 1 of every 1,100 women will develop vaginal cancer and 1 out of every 333 will develop vulvar cancer in their lifetime.
Vaginal and vulvar cancers occurs mainly in older women. Other risk factors for developing these cancers include smoking, being infected with HPV (human papillomavirus) and having cervical cancer.
Having routine pelvic exams, cervical cancer screenings and knowing the signs and symptoms vaginal and vulvar cancers greatly improve the chances of early detection and successful treatment.
The Importance of Early Detection and Annual Check-Ups
The earlier either cancer is detected and treated, the better. How often a woman needs a check-up can vary based on individual medical needs, but women should see their health care providers regularly.
Key points to remember:
- Take steps to prevent cancer – exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet.
- Know how your body normally looks, feels and reacts when healthy.
- If you notice any changes, tenderness, pain or abnormal bleeding, you should schedule an appointment with your health care provider as soon as possible.
- Learn the risks of gynecologic cancers, including whether you have a family history of ovarian, cervical, uterine/endometrial, or breast cancer.
- Anyone with female reproductive organs can develop a gynecological cancer, regardless of age or family history.
- Get the screenings your health care practitioner recommends. Cancer is most treatable when diagnosed early.