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March 24, 2023

6 Signs of Gynecologic Cancers to Watch For

6 Signs of Gynecologic Cancers to Watch For

Every woman should be aware of certain signs that might indicate gynecologic cancer. Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that arises in the female reproductive tract. This could include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, or vulvar cancer.

Some types of gynecological cancers are easier to screen for than others. For example, ovarian cancer doesn’t have a standard screening test, while cervical cancer does. For this reason, women should be aware of potential signs of cancer to know when it’s time to seek medical treatment. Let’s take a look at what you might look for.

6 Common Signs of Gynecologic Cancer

It isn’t always obvious when something starts to change inside your body. But as a woman, you’re likely familiar with what’s normal for you. When you notice something starts to change, it’s not necessarily a sign of cancer. But it is a good idea to visit your doctor to have your concerns addressed.

Some common signs of gynecologic cancer include:

  1. Changes in appetite

  2. Abnormal bloating

  3. Frequent urge to urinate

  4. Irregular menstrual periods (including bleeding after menopause)

  5. Pelvic pain and discomfort

  6. Unexplained fatigue

Your doctor can evaluate your symptoms, and whatever health history or underlying health conditions you have to determine if there is a cause for concern. If you have been experiencing ongoing abnormal symptoms, keep track by writing down how often you feel them and if any other factors worsen your symptoms.

1. Changes in Appetite

If your appetite has recently changed and you’re suddenly not feeling hungry like you normally were, this could indicate gynecological cancer. Cancer growing in the pelvic region can cause fluid buildup around the stomach. This fluid can place pressure on the stomach, fooling the body into feeling full when you really haven’t eaten anything.

2. Abnormal Bloating

It’s pretty normal for women to have some bloating throughout the course of a month. And as we get older, it can happen a little more often. But bloating that doesn’t go away is a concern. The same fluid buildup in the pelvic region that can cause appetite changes can also cause bloating.

3. Frequent Urge to Urinate

Cancer growth in the pelvic region can cause pressure on the bladder, leading to the frequent and urgent need to urinate. However, if nothing much comes out when you go, this could mean something is causing you to feel like you have to go to the bathroom. There are some urinary tract conditions that may also cause this to happen, but either way, talk to your doctor about it.

4. Irregular Menstrual Periods and Bleeding

This area is a little bit tricky because women who haven’t hit menopause yet may experience some abnormal periods as they age. That’s normal. But talk to your doctor about it if you notice abnormally heavy bleeding during your periods or unexplained bleeding between periods. In addition, missing a period may also indicate an issue, but you should always rule out pregnancy before worrying about a missed period meaning cancer.

If you've already gone through menopause and start bleeding, this definitely warrants a visit to your gynecologist because it could be a sign of gynecologic cancer.

5. Pelvic Pain and Discomfort

If you're experiencing abnormal pain and discomfort in your pelvis, this may indicate that you have gynecological cancer. The pain can be experienced during sex, or it could feel like back pain or an upset stomach. Again, this can happen due to regular menstrual cramps or a stomach bug. But if you notice it continuing after a week or so, consider reaching out to your doctor.

6. Unexplained Fatigue

As you age, your hormones may naturally shift, and you may need your doctor’s help to readjust them, so your energy levels increase. But gynecologic cancers can also cause hormonal changes that cause fatigue. Fatigue is different from being tired after a busy day or after not getting good sleep. If you’re taking time to rest and you still feel extremely exhausted, this may indicate a concern.

These are only a few common signs of gynecologic cancer, and they don't definitely indicate cancer. Always pay attention to your body and if something doesn’t feel right, schedule a visit with your gynecologist as soon as you’re able to.

Risk Factors for Gynecologic Cancers

There are certain risk factors that make you more likely to develop gynecologic cancer. Some risk factors are preventable, while others are not. Common risk factors include:

  • Age. Being middle-aged or older makes you more likely to develop gynecological cancer.

  • Being overweight.

  • Smoking.

  • Late menopause. If you don’t start menopause until age 55 or later, you have an increased risk of developing ovarian and breast cancers because of longer exposure to estrogen in the body.

  • Family history. If someone in your family has been diagnosed with breast cancer or ovarian cancer, then you’re at a higher risk of developing these. Tell your doctor about your family history to see if genetic testing is appropriate.

  • HPV. Some strains of the human papillomavirus are known to lead to cervical cancer and other types of cancer. If you have been diagnosed with HPV, talk to your doctor about the right cervical cancer screening schedule for you.

  • Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). This hormone disorder affecting the ovaries can put women at a higher risk for ovarian cancer.

Some of these risk factors are the same across all types of gynecologic cancers. Others are more specific to a specific type, such as ovarian or cervical, but it’s important to know your personal history and make changes where you can.

Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop cancer, but they are important to be aware of so that you can take steps to keep your health in check and reduce risk factors where you can.

How to Stay on Top of Your Gynecologic Health

Regular screening and early detection can identify cancer earlier, which makes it easier to treat. Cervical cancer can be screened using the Pap test, which identifies abnormal cervical cells.

Unfortunately, other gynecologic cancers don’t have screening tests, such as endometrial and ovarian cancers. Seeing your doctor once a year for a pelvic exam and pap test is important. They will feel your pelvic area from the inside and outside to see if anything is abnormal. If your doctor finds a small tumor or cyst during one of your annual check-ups, that doesn’t mean it is definitely cancer, but more testing will be done to determine what is causing those. If the Pap test comes back abnormal, additional tests may be run and the abnormal cells removed.

Because screening for all types of gynecologic cancers isn’t available, it’s even more important for you to know what’s normal for you and note the symptoms you experience. Don’t wait more than a few weeks to have anything abnormal addressed. It may be nothing, but you’ll have peace of mind by getting the answer.

Find Gynecologic Cancer Care Close To Home

In the event that you receive a gynecologic cancer diagnosis, the team of experts at Affiliated Oncologists is here to help you. Our gynecologic oncologists will walk you through the treatment process, including surgery and any other treatments that may be needed to ensure all of the cancer cells are killed.

The Gynecologic Cancer Institute of Chicago is a division of Affiliated Oncologists, making it possible to provide the most advanced treatments for female reproductive cancers, including highly advanced, robot-assisted surgery. We have locations across Greater Chicago, including Downers Grove and Oak Lawn, Illinois. We’re here to guide patients through a new diagnosis, and we can offer second opinions before starting a cancer treatment plan.

Categories: Gynecologic Cancers