The Five Ws of Gynecologic Cancer
Every year, more than 80,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer. There are five main types of gynecologic cancers: ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal and vulvar.
Who is at risk?
All women are at risk for gynecologic cancer. The human papillomavirus (HPV) is a leading cause of cervical cancer, and some vaginal and vulvar cancers. A family history of ovarian cancer also places women at higher risk, as there is a link between genetic mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes and ovarian cancer risk. Additional risk factors include age, ethnicity, obesity and prolonged exposure to estrogen, such as hormone replacement therapy to treat symptoms of menopause.
What screening techniques are available?
The most common screening tool for gynecologic cancers is the Pap test, which screens for cervical cancer by looking at cell changes on the cervix. In the past 40 years, the number of cervical cancer cases and deaths has declined significantly, largely as a result of regular Pap tests.
When should you start screening?
Good cervical health starts with regular OB/GYN appointments. The first reproductive health exam should occur between the ages of 13 and 15, and routine annual pelvic exams and Pap tests should start at age 21. Women with routinely normal Pap results should have Pap tests every 3 years or every 5 years with HPV testing, but still should have an annual OB/GYN exam. The Centers for Disease Control recommends the HPV vaccine for both girls and boys at age 11 or 12, before becoming sexually active, as a way to reduce the risk of certain cancers.
Where can I receive gynecologic care near me?
Community Memorial Healthcenter Women’s Health Services offers personalized, preventive and primary gynecologic care to women at every stage of life as well as gynecologic surgery for a range of conditions. VCU Massey Cancer Center has also recently opened a clinic in Colonial Heights at MCV Physicians at Temple Avenue staffed by two gynecologic oncologists who can provide initial consultations, treatment planning and long-term follow-up care for gynecologic cancers.
Why is prevention important?
Prevention is key with any cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, more than half of all cancer deaths could be prevented by making healthy lifestyle choices, such as eating healthy and staying active. Massey physicians are currently conducting a phase 3 clinical trial that is the first to study the effectiveness of diet and exercise in preventing gynecologic cancer recurrence.
For more information about gynecologic cancers, visit: www.massey.vcu.edu/cancer/gynecologic.
About the author:
Paul G. Goetowski, M.D. (known as “Dr. G.”), is assistant professor at VCU Massey Cancer Center and the director of radiation oncology at Community Memorial Healthcenter (CMH) Cancer and Specialty Care on behalf of Massey. He has extensive experience in using radiation to treat many cancer types and noncancerous diseases.