Questions about Gynecologic Cancers

What are gynecologic cancers?

Each year some 82,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers in the United States. Gynecologic cancers are often grouped together, but they are quite different in their etiology, risk factors, detection, treatment and chance of cure. Gynecologic cancers affect the female reproductive organs, including:

  • Cervix
  • Uterus
  • Ovaries
  • Fallopian tubes
  • Vagina
  • Vulva

Why do women get these cancers?

Biomedical research has discovered that some genes can contribute to cancer development. Some activate to promote cancer growth (oncogenes), while others (tumor suppressor genes) mutate to prevent the genes from regulating abnormal cell growth. You can get these genetic changes in two ways. They develop during life as a result of aging, or exposure to cigarette smoke or environmental influences, or they can be inherited. Knowing your family history can help you take action towards cancer prevention and increase your chance of early diagnosis. Your physician can determine a screening and prevention program based on your family's history of cancer and other risk factors.

What are the warning signs of gynecologic cancer?

Women with any of the following symptoms should see their doctor as soon as possible:

  • A change in bowel or bladder habits
  • A sore that does not heal
  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • A thickening or lump that either causes pain or can be seen or felt
  • Persistent indigestion
  • Pain in the pelvic area

What is a gynecologic oncologist, and when should I see one?

Gynecologic oncologists are cancer specialists who are trained first as obstetrician/gynecologists. They then complete an additional two to four years in the treatment of gynecologic cancers. They become experts in radical pelvic surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy, as well as the biology and pathology of gynecologic cancers. Only a limited number of medical centers around the country, including Cedars-Sinai, offer this training. Gynecologic oncologists provide their patients seamless care from diagnosis and surgery to treatment and surveillance. Care does not need to be fragmented among many physician specialists. Detection and treatment of gynecologic cancers require physicians who are trained specifically in this area. You should see a gynecologic oncologist if you suspect you have a gynecologic cancer.