Most women have had a Pap smear, which is a routine screening test for cervical cancer that’s performed during a check-up with the OB/GYN or general practitioner. Cervical cancer is only one of several cancers that can occur in a woman’s reproductive organs (known as gynecologic cancers). Knowing a bit about these conditions is helpful in keeping them in check.
A woman’s reproductive system is centered on the uterus (including the cervix), which is also known as the womb. The ovaries attach to the top of the uterus, and the vagina connects the uterus to the outside of the body. The external genitals are called the vulva. Gynecologic cancers result from the rapid growth and spread of abnormal cells in one of these organs.
Compared to other types of cancer (like breast or colon cancer), gynecologic cancers are uncommon, occurring in about 100,000 women in the United States each year. That said, all women are at risk for developing gynecologic cancers, and the risk increases with age. It’s important to know the warning signs, as treatments are most effective when the cancer is found at an early stage.
“There are so many different diseases that fall under the umbrella of gynecologic cancer, and each one can be very different in terms of the types of treatments and where we go from the initial diagnosis,” says Gloria Huang, MD, FACOG, a Yale Medicine gynecologic oncologist.
But, gynecologic cancers are often treatable. “Some of these present as pre-cancers that are easily treated when detected early,” she says. “Even many early-stage cancers, such as stage I endometrial cancer, are cured just with surgery alone, the vast majority of the time.”