About 72,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer a year and September – Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month – is a good time to remind women about symptoms and risks for cancer of the female reproductive organs.
There is only one screening test for such cancers – the Pap test that can find precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix. The Pap test doesn’t screen for other gynecologic cancers including ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar. So even if women get yearly Pap tests, they need to be vigilant about symptoms of other reproductive cancers.
These symptoms are often subtle and many women attribute them to something else – or ignore them. Women also generally put the health of others before their own. So it’s important to be your own healthcare advocate. If something doesn’t feel right or feels abnormal for you, contact your doctor.
The following are common symptoms of gynecological cancer. Having these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. It means you should contact your physician:
1. Constantly feeling full, even when you eat nothing or very little, loss of appetite, abdominal bloating. Some women also need to use the bathroom often or feel continuous bladder pressure.
2. Unexplained weight loss without a change in diet or exercise, persistent indigestion or nausea.
3. Ongoing pain in the abdominal area or pelvis, constant pelvic pressure.
4. Abnormal or irregular vaginal bleeding/discharge.
5. Constant fatigue.
Risk factors for gynecologic cancers include age, obesity, hypertension, diabetes and late menopause. The HPV virus causes the majority of cervical cancers and a new vaccine to prevent HPV in young women is expected to reduce the number of those cancers considerably. It’s important to know that HPV occurs in both men and women and at least 50 percent of sexually active people will get the virus at some point. Most won’t have symptoms and the virus will go away on its own. But chronic HPV can lead to cancer.