Published on September 22, 2022

Symptoms and Signs of Gynecologic Cancer

Gynecologic Cancer

Every year in the United States, about 100,000 women are diagnosed with one of the five types of gynecologic cancer: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar. As the month of September is recognized as Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, it’s a great time to learn more about the signs, symptoms and risk factors of these types of cancers and what women can do to lower their risk.

Something that I encourage all my patients to do is understand and pay attention to their body. A patient knows what’s ‘normal’ for them and what isn’t. If you begin experiencing things like abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual pelvic pain or pressure or a frequent urge to urinate, it’s time to see your provider. These symptoms by themselves can be many different things, which is why it’s important to see a health care professional so that we can properly assess, diagnose and treat gynecologic symptoms and conditions.

Specifically, symptoms of gynecologic cancer may include abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, feeling full too quickly or experiencing difficulty eating, bloating and abdominal or back pain, pelvic pain or pressure, a frequent or urgent need to urinate or constipation. In additional, symptoms of vulvar cancer can include itching, burning, pain or tenderness of the vulva, and changes in vulva color or skin, such as a rash, sores or warts.

Not everyone who has gynecologic cancer of any kind will experience all of these symptoms, and the severity can be different for every individual. If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, or if you have any warning signs, particularly unusual bleeding between periods or vaginal bleeding after menopause, contact your health care provider for an appointment.

When it comes to risk factors of gynecologic cancer, there are both modifiable lifestyle risk factors as well as inherited risk factors. Family history is one risk factor, along with age; a woman’s risk of developing gynecologic cancer increases when a woman is over the age of 60. In addition, HPV, a sexually transmitted diseases, can cause cervical cancer as well as vaginal and vulvar cancers. Finally, obesity causes increased estrogen production and chronic inflammation. This leads to a higher risk of developing gynecologic cancer, particularly endometrial cancer.

So, what can be done to lower your risk of gynecologic cancer? While you can’t change your family history, you can undergo genetic testing, something that’s encourage if your mother, daughter, sister or another female relative has had ovarian cancer. You can’t change your age, either, but you can keep up with regular visits to your health care provider. Gynecologic checkups are still important, even after a woman goes through menopause. To prevent HPV, I also encourage all girls and boys to get the HPV vaccine, which drastically reduces the rate of HPV infections. Regular Pap smears are also an important part of gynecologic checkups, as they screen for cervical cancer and HPV infection.

Obstetrician/Gynecologist Shawna Ruple, M.D., sees patients at MidMichigan Obstetrics & Gynecology in Midland and performs procedures and delivers babies at MyMichigan Medical Center Midland and MyMichigan Medical Center West Branch. Dr. Ruple specializes in routine and problem gynecology care, gynecologic surgery, prevention of female reproductive cancers, birth control options, caring for women while pregnant and more.