Gynaecologic Cancers: Types, Symptoms, Prevention And Treatment Options Every Women Must Know
Gynaecological cancers affect the female reproductive organs, including cervical, uterine corpus, ovarian, vulva and vaginal cancer.
Cervical cancer is the most common gynaecologic cancer
Cancer is a devastating reality for millions of people worldwide. With 19.3 million new cases and 10 million cancer-related deaths in 2020 alone (according to the GLOBOCAN Cancer 2020 report), it's one of the leading causes of death globally. And it's only expected to get worse, with projections of 29.5 million new cases and 16.3 million deaths by 2040. This burden is taking a huge toll on individuals, families, communities, and healthcare systems.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, accounting for 685,000 deaths globally in 2020. Gynaecological cancers refer to the cancers that affect the female reproductive organs, including Cervical, Uterine corpus, Ovarian, Vulva, and Vaginal cancer.
All about gynecologic cancers
Cervical cancer is the most common gynaecologic cancer. It is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide, with over 342,000 deaths in 2020. Human papillomavirus (HPV) types 16 and 18 are responsible for nearly 60-70% of all cervical cancers, which are primarily transmitted through sexual contact.
Uterine cancer is another common type, accounting for 97,000 deaths in 2020. Risk factors are obesity, unopposed oestrogen exposure, early menarche, late menopause, nulliparity, hormone replacement therapy, increasing age, radiation, tamoxifen, genetics, and family history of ovarian, endometrial, and colorectal cancers.
Ovarian cancer develops in the ovaries which are pair of reproductive glands that produce eggs and hormones. It accounted for 2,07,252 deaths in 2020. Risk factors include increasing age, nulliparity, infertility, obesity, smoking, genetics, and family history of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.
Vulva and vaginal cancers are less frequently seen, with 17527 and 7995 deaths respectively in 2020. Risk factors are HPV infection, low immunity, smoking, pre-invasive lesions, increasing age, etc.
Common signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers
Certain signs and symptoms are linked to gynaecological cancers, but not all women with gynaecological cancer experience the same symptoms. Also, some symptoms are difficult to distinguish because they sometimes mimic other conditions.
However, some common symptoms and signs include - abnormal uterine bleeding, heavy and prolonged bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, post-coital bleed or intermenstrual bleed, post-menopausal bleeding, pelvic pain or pressure, abdominal distension, bloating, early satiety, mass per abdomen, urinary-related problems and constipation, persistent vulval itching not subsiding on conservative management, vulval sores, ulcers, growth and discolouration. Any woman experiencing any of the symptoms above should seek medical care from a healthcare expert.
Cancer care begins with prevention, screening, diagnosis and treatment.
Cancers can be cured if diagnosed at an early stage and treated with no delay. Avoiding risk factors and executing existing evidence-based prevention strategies can alone prevent 30% to 50% of cancers.
To help prevent gynaecologic cancer -
- Avoid Tobacco, cigarettes, and alcohol consumption
- Reduce exposure to ultraviolet and ionising radiation
- Avoid air pollution
- Keep a healthy weight and exercise regularly
- Consume a healthy diet which is rich in fruits and vegetables
- Practice safe sex
- Take vaccination to prevent Hepatitis B and HPV
- screening routinely with pap smear tests or HPV DNA tests
- Get regular medical health check-ups
The treatment modalities include a multimodal approach - surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiotherapy, administered either in combination or alone. Based on tumour type, cancer stage, and clinical and other factors, a multidisciplinary team of cancer professionals recommends the best possible treatment plan. Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of patient's life and their families and is a critical component of comprehensive cancer care.
Therefore, efforts to build a sustainable infrastructure for the propagation of cancer prevention measures and cancer care are critical for reducing the burden and suffering of cancer worldwide. Educate and encourage women about Gynaecological cancers to discuss their concerns with their healthcare providers.
(Dr. Pratima Raj, Associate Consultant - Gynaecologic Oncology, Manipal Hospital Old Airport Road)
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