Any cancers that begin in women’s reproductive organs are called gynecological cancers. Cancer arises when the body cells divide uncontrollably and start to damage and invade the surrounding body tissues. Gynecological cancers are one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths in women worldwide. On National Cancer Awareness Day, observed annually on November 7, let’s understand more about what they are and why we need to talk about them, as explained Dr Anjali Kumar, MBBS, MD (Obstetrics and Gynaecology), FICMCH, FMAS, CK Birla Hospital.
There are various kinds of gynecological cancers:
Cervical cancer affects the cells of the lining of the cervix, also known as mouth of uterus, which is inside the vagina but accessible for checkup easily.
Ovarian cancer grows when the cells in the ovary grow and multiply, eventually damaging the healthy ovarian tissue and invading the surrounding tissues. Ovarian cancer is the second most common gynecological cancer.
Commonly called endometrial cancer, uterine cancer is the abnormal growing of the uterine tissue. The buildup of cancer cells may form a mass (malignant tumour). Non-cancer cells that form a mass are termed benign tumors, like uterine fibroids and uterine polyps.
Vaginal cancer is one of the rare cancers that develops inside the vagina. It is mostly diagnosed in older women.
Vulval cancer is another rare cancer that affects the external female sex organs. It commonly develops on the inner edges of the two pairs of lips of the vulva. It can also arise on the skin between the lips, as well as the clitoris, and the skin between the vulva and the anus.
There are multiple symptoms associated with gynecological cancers and every cancer type can be linked with specific symptoms.
*Vaginal bleeding or spotting after menopause
*Pain in the lower abdomen that persists for more than two weeks
*Feeling of lump in lower abdomen
*Bleeding between periods
*Bleeding/spotting after sexual intercourse
*Unusual itching/discoloration/growth over external genitalia
If you experience any of these symptoms, the best way is to get proper consultation for timely detection. Every gynecological cancer is different, with diverse signs, symptoms and risk factors. Every single woman is at risk, and this risk increases with age. When these gynecological cancers are detected early, the treatment becomes most effective. It depends on the kind of cancer and how much it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. In some cases, a combination of treatment may also be recommended.
This involves the removal of the cancer tissue by surgery. It is often the first line treatment for a majority of gynecological cancers. The surgery may depend on the type of cancer and the stage of cancer.
The process where special medicines are used to shrink and kill the cancer. The medicines can be pills or medicines injected in the veins.
Radiation is the process of using high-energy rays (like X-rays) to kill the cancer inside the patient’s body.
Although there is no definite way to prevent gynecological cancer, one can reduce the risk factors by following these important steps:
*Understand your body: If you feel any kind of abnormality for about two weeks or more, consult with a doctor.
*Get routine tests: These tests will help the doctor find pre-cancerous changes in your cervix. All women aged 21 to 65 should get regular tests as guided by doctors.
*Family history: If any family member has a history of ovarian cancer or any gynecological cancer, doctors may suggest genetic testing and counselling.
*Healthy lifestyle choices: Following a healthy and active lifestyle; maintaining a healthy weight will help reduce risk for certain cancers, like uterine and ovarian cancer. Not smoking, eating a healthy diet, getting regular exercise, and practising safe sex can also help.
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