September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, which makes this a good time to learn about the five types of gynecologic cancer.
Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. More than 116,000 women in the U.S. will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer this year, according to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.
The five main types of gynecologic cancer are:
- Cervical cancer
Early stage cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Indications of more advanced cervical cancer include vaginal bleeding after intercourse, between periods or after menopause; watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and have a foul odor; and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse. It isn’t clear what causes cervical cancer, but it’s certain that HPV plays a role, along with environmental factors and lifestyle choices.
- Endometrial cancer
Endometrial cancer, sometimes called uterine cancer, begins in the layer of cells that form the lining of the uterus. Endometrial cancer often is detected at an early stage because it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their health care providers. If endometrial cancer is discovered early, surgically removing the uterus often cures it.
- Ovarian cancer
Early stage ovarian cancer rarely causes any symptoms. Advanced-stage ovarian cancer can cause few and nonspecific symptoms that often are mistaken for more common benign conditions. Ovarian cancer often goes undetected until it has spread within the pelvis and abdomen. At this late stage, it’s more difficult to treat, and it is frequently fatal. Early stage ovarian cancer, where the disease is confined to the ovary, is more likely to be treated successfully.
- Vaginal cancer
Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of the vagina. While several types of cancer can spread to the vagina from other places in the body, primary vaginal cancer is rare. A diagnosis of early stage vaginal cancer has the best chance for a cure. Vaginal cancer that spreads beyond the vagina is more difficult to treat.
- Vulvar cancer
Vulvar cancer occurs on the outer surface area of the female genitalia. The vulva is the area of skin that surrounds the urethra and vagina, including the clitoris and labia. Vulvar cancer commonly forms as a lump or sore on the vulva that often causes itching. Though it can occur at any age, vulvar cancer most commonly is diagnosed in older adults.