Preventing Gynecological Cancers - Warning Signs and Preventative Steps

Headshot of Dr. De Nagy.

Published September 12, 2019

Gynecological cancers are any cancers that specifically form within the organs that are unique to women. These diseases can occur at any time or at any age, with risks increasing gradually after age 40. There are many warning signs that could indicate cancer, and a number of preventative steps you can take to help reduce your risk of cancer. Let’s take a closer look at what to know and what to avoid.

Gynecological Cancers: An Overview

“We now know enough about risks for developing cancer that we can give patients the power to reduce these risks as much as possible, and catch cancer early enough to live a normal life after diagnosis and treatment.”
Assistant Professor

Unlike lung cancer or bladder cancer, which is specific to an individual organ, gynecological cancers refer to cancers that occur anywhere within the set of female organs. This includes the uterus and fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, vagina and vulva, says Dr. Joseph De Nagy of UBMD Obstetrics & Gynecology.

“Many cancers, when caught early enough, can be treated in a way that has little effect on quality of life, and you can live the long and healthy life you want,” said De Nagy.

Signs and Symptoms

Each type of gynecological cancer can manifest with different symptoms, but doctors like De Nagy know there are some common general signs for each type of specific cancer.

“We look for different symptoms when we suspect gynecological cancers in our patients, depending upon the cancer,” said De Nagy.

Ovarian cancer, for instance, is often associated with bloating that occurs several days out of the month. Cancers of the uterus, cervix or vagina may show early signs through irregular menstrual bleeding, bleeding after sexual activity or bleeding that occurs after menopause, said De Nagy. Other bleeding, ulcerations or lumps in the labia could be symptomatic of vulvar cancer.

Treating Gynecological Cancers

For most the types of gynecological cancers, treatment includes chemotherapy and surgery to remove cancerous tissues or even whole organs, when necessary. For some specific types of gynecological cancer, including cervical and vulvar cancers, radiation therapy is often used to treat the affected area.

“Early detection is extremely important,” said De Nagy. “The later cancer is found, the further it has spread before treatment. This usually means more extensive surgery, longer and stronger doses of chemotherapy, and more radiation treatments, all of which can lead to more long-term effects from treatment and lower quality of life.”

Risk Factors and Behaviors

As is the case with many other cancers, gynecological cancer risks tend to increase for individuals with a family history of any specific type of cancer. Smoking is also a major – and preventable – risk factor for various types of cancer, including gynecological cancers.

Irregular bleeding for individuals in their 30s and older, or bleeding after menopause, are also risks for uterine cancer, said De Nagy. The presence of abnormal cells on the cervix also is associated with an increased risk for cervical cancer.

In addition, HPV – the human papillomavirus – is now known to be associated with many forms of gynecological cancer.

“We now know that cervical cancer, and many vaginal and vulvar cancers, are caused by HPV, which is prevented with the HPV vaccine,” said De Nagy. 

Prevention and Early Detection

By refraining from risky behaviors, such as smoking, and taking measures like receiving the HPV vaccine and reporting any concerns to your doctor, it’s possible to avoid cancer or detect early warning signs.

“The No. 1 thing I want my patients to know is that your annual preventative visit is a great time to discuss risks with your doctor, and what you can do to prevent cancer from developing,” said De Nagy.

For most patients, getting a pap smear every three years will uncover signs of any abnormal cells on the cervix before they can develop into cancer. Other individuals who have irregular periods in their 30s or later in life may be prescribed medications to control or stop periods to help deter uterine cancers. People who have a history in the family of ovarian cancer should also discuss that with their doctor to review any screening tests or surgeries that can help with prevention and early detection.

Speak with Your Doctor

“We now know enough about risks for developing cancer that we can give patients the power to reduce these risks as much as possible, and catch cancer early enough to live a normal life after diagnosis and treatment,” said De Nagy.

Scheduling an annual preventative appointment with a doctor at UBMD Obstetrics & Gynecology allows you to discuss any concerns or risk factors that you may have. Your doctor may suggest preventative screening tests or additional steps to take or changes to make in your life to help prevent cancers from forming.

“When cancer has spread far before diagnosis, the chance of dying – even with treatment – is much higher,” added De Nagy. Taking any steps you can to avoid cancer are steps that will help you live a longer and healthier life.

Learn more or schedule an appointment with De Nagy or any of the other physicians at UBMD Obstetrics & Gynecology by calling 716.636.8284 today.