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Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, a time to recognize the impact of reproductive tract cancers, share personal stories, and educate people about screening, prevention, and treatment options.

Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month

Types of Gynecologic Cancer

Gynecologic cancer is a massive women's health issue, with approximately 98,000 women diagnosed each year with one of these types of cancer, and around 30,000 deaths resulting from them.

There are five types of gynecologic cancer:

  • Cervical cancer: begins in the cervix, the neck of tissue that connects the vagina and the uterus.
  • Ovarian cancer: begins in the ovaries, the primary reproductive organs on each side of the uterus.
  • Uterine cancer: begins in the uterus, the organ in the pelvis where fetal development occurs.
  • Vaginal cancer: begins in the vagina, the muscular canal between the uterus and the outside of the body.
  • Vulvar cancer: begins in the vulva, the outer surface area of the female genitals.

Each of these cancers is unique, with different signs, symptoms, risk factors, and prevention strategies.

Gynecologic Cancer Screening


All women are at risk for gynecologic cancer, and that risk increases with age. There are ways to reduce your risk, however:

  • HPV vaccine: Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers can be caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), which is a common sexually-transmitted infection. That's why the HPV vaccine is recommended for everyone through 26 years old, and is usually given at 11 or 12 years old. It does not treat existing HPV, and can be given after 26 years old, but exposure to the virus is more likely by that age.
  • Pap Test: Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancers with a screening test. This test can also find precancers, cervical cell changes that might become cancer. You should start getting this test at age 21.
  • HPV Test: In women age 30 or older, testing for HPV can help identify your risk of related cancers.
  • Learn the Warning Signs: Each of these cancers has specific signs. Learning them can increase your odds of early detection.

Low-Cost Screening

The CDC's National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program provides breast and cervical cancer screenings and diagnostic services to low-income, uninsured, and underinsured women across the United States. Find out if you qualify!

Risk Factors

Hereditary factors play a part in your risk for one of these cancers, as well as a personal history with a gynecologic cancer or breast cancer. An HPV diagnosis increases your risk for cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. But you may develop a gynecologic cancer even without a family history, or even if you're not high-risk, so it's important to know the symptoms.

Recognizing Signs of Gynecologic Cancer

Recognizing Signs

Each gynecological cancer has a different set of warning signs, and some of these symptoms can be shared between multiple cancers. We're going to take a quick look at common symptoms and their associated cancers below:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge: cervical, ovarian, uterine, and vaginal cancers.
  • Difficulty eating or early satiety (feeling full too easily when eating): ovarian cancer.
  • Pelvic pain or pressure: ovarian and uterine cancers.
  • Urinary frequency or urgency: ovarian and vaginal cancers.
  • Constipation: ovarian and vaginal cancers.
  • Bloating: ovarian cancer.
  • Abdominal or back pain: ovarian cancer.
  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, discharge, or pain during or after sexual intercourse: cervical or vaginal cancer.

Vulvar cancer has some unique symptoms:

  • Itching, burning, pain, or tenderness in the vulva.
  • Changes in vulva color.
  • Vulva skin irritation: rash, sores, warts.

Always check with your doctor if you're experiencing unusual symptoms, especially if they last for two weeks or longer, or are abnormal for your body. Vaginal bleeding after menopause, as well as unusual or irregular periods, should definitely be reported to your doctor. Symptoms like these aren't always signs of cancer, but should be followed up on to determine a cause.

Remember, early detection has a massive influence on cancer survivability. You know what's normal for your body. Keeping track of physical changes, using the CDC's helpful Gynecologic Cancer Symptoms Diary, and following up with a medical professional are as important as regular cancer screenings.

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