Gynecological cancer includes five main types of cancer that affect the female reproductive system, in areas such as the vagina, cervix, uterus, vulva, and ovaries. All women are at risk of developing a form of gynecological cancer, with risk increasing with age. To identify early signs of cancer, it is recommended that women schedule appointments with a doctor for a Pap test, since catching cancer before it can spread and develop further.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS OF GYNECOLOGICAL CANCER
The signs and symptoms of gynecological cancer can vary from patient to patient since many factors can affect what types of symptoms manifest such as the type, stage, and location of cancer. Some common symptoms that can be signs of developing gynecological cancer include:
• Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
• Pelvic, abdominal, or back pain
• Frequent urination
• Persistent constipation, diarrhea
• Itching or burning feeling in the vulva
• Change of color in vulva
If you experience any of these symptoms, we recommend you schedule an appointment with a doctor for an examination.
HOW GYNECOLOGICAL CANCERS ARE TREATED
All types of gynecological cancer can be treated to reduce symptoms and the chance of recurrence. The type of treatment that a patient will receive depends on their overall health and the type, location, and stage of cancer. The most common treatments for gynecological cancer include radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and surgery. Often, these treatment methods are used in conjunction with each other to improve effectiveness.
RADIATION THERAPY TREATMENT
Radiation therapy uses doses of radiation to kill cancer cells, and stop it from growing or spreading to other parts of the body. The radiation damages the cancer cells and destroys their ability to multiply. The cells eventually die off, since the cancerous cells lack the ability to regenerate from radiation damage, while healthy cells heal over a short period. There are two types of radiation therapy, which are:
• External Beam Radiation Therapy – a machine directs concentrated beams of radiation at the tumor, affecting the cancer cells and a small amount of surrounding healthy tissue.
• Brachytherapy – in a minor surgical procedure, small tubes are placed next to the tumor. The radiation oncologist places a small amount of radioactive material into the tubes, allowing for more direct radiation exposure to the cancer cells.
To determine which form of radiation therapy is best for your treatment, schedule an appointment with your doctor. You can also learn more about radiation therapy at Peninsula Radiation Oncology Center by visiting our Types of Radiation Therapy page.
SURGICAL TREATMENT GYNECOLOGICAL CANCER
Surgery is commonly used as a treatment for gynecological cancers, effectively removing cancer tissue from the patient. In the case of internal gynecological cancers, the surgeon may perform a hysterectomy, which is a procedure in which the uterus and cervix are removed. It is also possible for the surgeon to remove the lymph nodes in order to prevent cancer from spreading.
CHEMOTHERAPY FOR GYNECOLOGICAL CANCER
Chemotherapy treats gynecological cancer by using various medications that target and kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy is unique compared to other treatment methods because the medication targets the whole body instead of an isolated area. The dosage and frequency of chemotherapy treatments will be determined by a medical oncologist.
GYNECOLOGIC CANCER RESOURCES
National Cervical Cancer Coalition
National Ovarian Cancer Coalition
Ovarian Cancer National Alliance
Ovarian Cancer Research Fund
Women’s Cancer Network
Also see Helpful Links
Download some helpful brochures from www.rtanswers.org:
*Content provided by the American Society for Radiation Oncology, www.rtanswers.org, and the American Cancer Society.