Gynecologic cancers include several types, such as endometrial, uterine, ovarian and cervical. Since each type of gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs, symptoms, risk factors, and prevention strategies, the healthcare professionals at Summa Health System combine the latest cancer treatment technology with a comprehensive course of cancer treatment options.
Cervical cancer was once one of the more common causes of cancer-related deaths among women. However, with the increased use of the Pap test, there has been a 70% decline in the death rate from cervical cancer. A majority of cases are found in women younger than age 50. And, in terms of ethnicity, Latina and African-American women are more likely to develop cervical cancer compared to Caucasian women.
Although the causes of cervical cancer are not known, environmental risk factors and genetics have shown an increased chance of developing the cancer. Some other risk factors which may lead to the development of cervical cancer include:
- HPV – Human papilloma virus is common and typically clears up on its own. In some cases, it becomes chronic and may lead to cancer.
- Smoking – Women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer.
- Weakened immune system – Women infected with HIV or those taking medications to suppress the immune system are at increased risk of development.
- Sexual history – Women with many sexual partners or those who have male partners with long sexual histories are at increased risk of HPV infection and cervical cancer.
- Giving birth to many children – Women who give birth to five or more children may be slightly more at risk than other women.
- Extensive use of birth control – Women who take birth control for five or more years are at increased risk.
- Diet – Women with diets low in fruits and vegetables are at greater risk of developing cervical cancer.
- Diethylstilbestrol (DES) – The daughters of women who took DES are at increased risk of developing squamous cell cancers and pre-cancers of the cervix.
Common signs and symptoms of cervical cancer are:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Bleeding that occurs between regular menstrual periods
- Bleeding after sexual intercourse or a pelvic exam
- Menstrual periods that last longer and are heavier than before
- Bleeding after going through menopause
- Increased vaginal discharge
- Pelvic pain
- Pain during sex
The treatment options for cervical cancer vary between surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. In most cases, the recommended treatment is guided by the stage of cervical cancer and whether it has spread to any other areas of the body.
Endometrial cancer, sometimes called uterine cancer, is the most common form of cancer in the female reproductive system. It grows in the tissue that lines the inner portion of the uterus. More than 80% of the cases are adenocarcinomas (cells that release mucus or other fluids).
The grade, or severity, of endometrial cancer is determined by how the glands formed by cancerous cells compare to healthy endometrial tissue. Lower grade (1, 2) cases are typically less aggressive than higher grades (3).
A majority of cases can be found among women age 50 or older and endometrial cancer is most prevalent among white women.
Risk factors for endometrial cancer include:
- Estrogen therapy -- A typical form of treatment for menopause symptoms but, if estrogen is used without progesterone, endometrial cancer has been known to develop.
- Total number of menstrual cycles -- The more menstrual cycles a woman has during her lifetime increases the chance of developing endometrial cancer. As a result, the earlier in life a woman starts menstruating and the longer a woman goes before menopause, the chances of developing endometrial cancer increase.
- Lack of pregnancy -- Women who have not been pregnant or those who are infertile have a higher risk of developing the cancer.
- Tamoxifen -- A drug used to treat breast cancer. Though rare, it is a risk factor for endometrial cancer because of the drug acting like an estrogen in the uterus.
- Obesity -- Endometrial cancer is three times more common among obese women than those at a healthier weight.
- Ovarian tumors -- Certain types of tumors can release estrogen, causing a hormone imbalance that sometimes leads to endometrial cancer.
- Polycystic ovarian syndromes (PCOS) -- Women with PCOS have abnormal hormone levels, which can increase the chance of development.
- Age -- The chance of developing this form of cancer increases with age.
- Diet/exercise -- A high-fat diet can increase the chance of several cancers, especially because such can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor in itself.
- Diabetes -- Women with diabetes are four times more likely to develop endometrial cancer.
- Prior pelvic radiation therapy – Radiation used to treat another form of cancer can damage the DNA of cells, sometimes increasing the risk of a second type of cancer such as endometrial cancer.
- Endometrial hyperplasia --Endometrial hyperplasia is an increased growth of the endometrium. Mild or simple hyperplasia, which is the most common type, has a very small risk of becoming cancerous.
- Family history -- If several family members have/had endometrial cancer, your healthcare professional may recommend undergoing genetic testing.
Typical symptoms include:
- Abnormal bleeding, spotting or discharge
- Pelvic pain/feeling of mass
- Weight loss
The primary form of treatment for endometrial cancer is surgery. In most cases, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) is performed. Depending on the individual case and the stage of cancer, radiation and/or chemotherapy may be recommended.
Ovarian cancer is the ninth most common form of cancer among women but is the fifth most common cause of cancer-related deaths. This form of cancer is most common among women older than age 55. In terms of ethnicity, ovarian cancer is more common among Caucasian women than African-American or Latina women.
The causes of ovarian cancer are not known, but genetics and environmental risk factors have shown an increased chance of development among women. Some other risk factors which may lead to the development of ovarian cancer include:
- Family history – Women with family members who have had ovarian cancer are at increased risk of development. Also, a family history of the following forms of cancer can increase the risk of developing ovarian cancer: breast, uterus, colon, and rectum.
- Personal history of cancer – Women with a personal history of cancer, especially of the breast, uterus, colon or rectum.
- Age – A majority of women diagnosed with ovarian cancer are older than age 55.
- Never pregnant/infertility – Women who have never been pregnant have an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer.
- Estrogen therapy – Estrogen therapy is a typical form of treatment for menopause symptoms but, if estrogen is used without progesterone, ovarian cancer has been known to develop.
- Diet/exercise – A high-fat diet can increase the chance of several cancers, especially because such can lead to weight gain, which is a risk factor in itself.
Typical symptoms include:
- Pressure or pain in the abdomen
- A swollen or bloated abdomen
- Trouble eating/feeling full quickly
- Urinary changes – frequency or urgency
Some less common symptoms are:
- Upset stomach or nausea
- Back pain
- Pain during sex
- Menstrual changes
The primary form of treatment for ovarian cancer is surgery. In most cases, a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus and cervix) is performed. Depending on the individual case and the stage of cancer, chemotherapy may be recommended. Radiation therapy is rarely used for the initial treatment of ovarian cancer. In some cases, it is used to pain or side effects caused by the disease.
At Summa, we strive to catch cancer early, when it’s easier to treat and cure. Through our dedication to exceptional cancer screening programs, we strive to improve the overall health of the communities we serve.
The 5-year survival rate for gynecologic cancer drops in advanced stages of the disease, but too many women wait until they experience symptoms. By then, the cancer may have spread and be more difficult to treat and cure. That’s why it is so important to schedule a regular screening and undergo recommended check-ups with a gynecologist.
Pap tests are the most effective way of preventing or avoiding cervical cancer. In the case of endometrial or ovarian cancers, there are no recommended tests or screening to find the cancers BEFORE symptoms develop. It is still recommended women undergo recommended Pap testing to detect the presence of these cancer types.
If you any unusual symptoms are experienced, a number of additional tests such as ultrasound, biopsy or a blood test may be performed by your health care professional to determine if there is a malignancy of any type.
Summa’s comprehensive cancer treatment plan utilizes cutting-edge technology such as:
- 3D CT imaging
- Stereotactic Radiosurgery (SRS)
- Stereotactic Body Radiotherapy (SBRT)
- Minimally invasive surgery
SRS and SBRT provide patients with more precise and non-invasive treatment that is faster and more convenient for the patient. These technologies allow Summa’s radiation oncologists to pinpoint the exact location of a tumor and delver the radiation treatments more directly while decreasing exposure to surrounding tissues.
This advanced technology allows Summa to treat tumors virtually anywhere in the body as well as tumors requiring highly focused precision or those that are medically inoperable. With custom tracking, our oncologists can treat small tumors close to critical organs.
Use of minimally-invasive, robotic-assisted gynecologic surgery allows surgeons to safely perform delicate and complex procedures such as removal of the uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries. Minimally invasive techniques provide benefits to patients, including: less post-operative pain, faster recovery times, less bleeding and less scarring. Minimally invasive robotic surgery may not be the best option for everyone. Your physician can explain all of the options available to treat your condition, including whether you’re a good candidate for minimally invasive robotic surgery.
Learn about Summa’s use of the daVinci robotic-assisted system for minimally invasive surgery.
Find out more about Summa’s gynecologic cancer treatment program and gynecologic cancer screening services.