Last updated date: 14-Oct-2022
Originally Written in English
Cancer is one of the most chronic health conditions whereby the cells in the body grow and divide uncontrollably. Therefore, gynecologic malignancyrefers to a group of various cancers that affect the female reproductive system.
In general, every woman is at risk of acquiring gynecological malignancy, which can develop in various reproductive parts. Furthermore, there are several types of gynecology cancer. It includes ovarian cancer, endometrial or uterine cancer, and cervical cancer. Other less common types of gynecologic cancers are vaginal cancer, vulvar cancer, fallopian tube cancer, and gestational trophoblastic condition.
Risk Factors of Gynecologic Malignancies
The factors that can increase the risks of acquiring gynecological cancerinclude;
Age: Old age can increase the risk of developing gynecology malignancy in most women. According to medical studies, the average age of patients diagnosed with uterine cancer is usually 63 years.
Human papillomavirus (HPV): HPV is one of the common sexually transmitted diseases. On the other hand, vaginal, vulvar, and cervical cancers are usually associated with this infection. As such, practicing safe sex by using a condom is the best way of preventing HPV. This also reduces the risks of gynecologic cancers.
Genetics: Medical research studies states that approximately 10% of women with ovarian cancers have an underlying family history of a similar condition. As such, doctors recommend genetic testing for gene mutation since this increase the risks of developing ovarian cancer. This is especially in women whose mother, sister, or daughter has had or is suffering from fallopian tube cancer, ovarian, or primary peritoneal malignancy.
Exposure to diethylstilbestrol: Certain gynecologic malignancies are linked to prolonged exposure to diethylstilbestrol. This is a synthetic estrogen form that was initially administered to pregnant women before the invention of other safer alternatives.
Signs and Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers
The gynecological cancer symptoms and signs can vary depending on the affected organ. However, the common symptoms that can sometimes indicate malignancy or related condition include;
- Abnormal vaginal discharge, usually white
- Severe abdominal pain and swelling
- Bloating, constipation, and increased urge to urinate frequently
- Pelvic pain and pressure
- Vulvar soreness, itching, pain, tenderness, burning, and sometimes visible lesion
- Changes in the vulvar skin or color and development of rashes
- Unexplainable or drastic weight loss
- Heavy vaginal bleeding
- Changes in bowel habits
However, you should note that some of these signs and symptoms do not always indicate a malignancy. Some can be signs of common urinal tract infections. Furthermore, not every patient with gynecologic cancer experiences these related symptoms. Regardless, it’s essential to see a gynecologist if you experience any of these symptoms. This helps minimize the risks of gynecologic malignancy.
Diagnosing Gynecological Malignancy
Gynecology malignancy can develop and spread in various ways. It directly invades the surrounding organs and tissues. Also, it can metastasize via the lymphatic system or bloodstream to other distant parts of the body.
Therefore, to diagnose the condition, the gynecologists can perform the following;
- Regular pelvic exam
Screening and regular pelvic examination for various gynecological malignancies are essential, especially for common conditions like cervical cancer. This can also help diagnose the condition at its early stage. The common screening tests include Pap tests and testing for HPV.
Sometimes, these tests and examinations can help prevent cancers through the diagnosis of precancerous changes. This is before they eventually become cancerous. Also, a regular pelvic examination can help detect vaginal and vulva cancer while at the early stage. However, cancers of the uterus, fallopian tube, and ovaries are not easily diagnosed or detected during pelvic exams.
The doctor can conduct a biopsy if he or she suspects malignancy in the reproductive system. Biopsy aims at confirming or ruling out the diagnosis results. It’s done by removing a small sample of tissue from the affected organ or tissue and examining it using a microscope.
Gynecologic Cancer Staging
If the gynecologists diagnose a malignancy, they can recommend one or more tests. This is to find out the stage and extent of the condition. The cancer stage usually depends on how large the cancer is and how it has advanced.
Doctors usually check the cancer stage after conducting a biopsy of the organs or tissues, such as the lymph nodes. The common procedures and imaging tests that they use to stage gynecologic malignancy include;
X-ray: This type of radiation uses electromagnetic waves to produce images of the reproductive organs. It enables the gynecologist to identify the presence of malignancies, the affected organ, and the extent.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): This is an imaging test to examine the ovaries, uterus, cervix, or fallopian tubes. It uses a combination of strong magnetic fields and radio waves to produce pictures of these organs for more analysis.
Computed tomography (CT) scan: This technique combines x-rays images taken at different angles and computer technology to generate cross-section images of reproductive organs. This makes it easier for the doctor to identify gynecologic malignancy, the location, and the extent.
Positron emission tomography (PET) scan: This technique uses a tracer, a radioactive drug, to portray the activities and the functions of the reproductive system, including organs. It enables the gynecologist to diagnose a malignancy and determine the stage.
In general, the staging of gynecologic malignancy enables the doctor to develop a suitable treatment plan. Furthermore, cancer stages usually range from the early phase to the most advanced.
Treatment of Gynecologic Malignancy
Gynecological cancer treatment comprises a combination of several procedures depending on the current stage. The common treatment options include;
- Surgical procedures
Surgery is a treatment alternative that involves the removal of the affected organ. For the case of ovarian cancer, treatment includes the removal of the ovaries, the uterus, and fallopian tube. However, the doctor can recommend a hysterectomy for the case of cervical cancers. Hysterectomy refers to the surgical operation of the uterus to address the cervical condition.
During the surgery, the surgeon will also remove removes cells and tissues from the surrounding organs. This ensures that there are no active cancerous cells that can advance and spread to other body parts. In case the cancer is diagnosed at its early stage, then the surgery might be less extensive.
After the surgical procedure, the surgeon usually recommends chemotherapy treatment. The aim of chemotherapy is to destroy the cancerous cells that remain after the surgery. The procedure involves injecting drugs directly into the patient’s vein to address the condition. Alternatively, surgeons can use chemotherapy treatment as an initial procedure for treating reproductive system malignancy.
- Radiation therapy
This treatment option uses high-power energy beams, including x-rays, to destroy the cancerous cells. Doctors can use radiation therapy alongside chemotherapy to help shrink the tumor before it’s removed. Chemotherapy is also vital after a surgical procedure since it kills the remaining cancer cells. In other cases, it can be externally administered by directing the energy beam to the affected part to destroy the cells.
Preventing Gynecological Malignancies
Typically, there is no specific way of preventing gynecology cancer. However, you can limit the risk factors through various ways, including;
- Opting for regular Pap test
Undergoing pap tests regularly makes it easy for the doctor to detect precancerous changes in the reproductive system. With this, you can begin treatment as early as possible to prevent the condition from advancing. During this stage also, the chances of successfully recovering are high. As such, it’s essential for every woman aged 21 to 65 years to go for regular pap tests.
- Knowing you body
Understanding your body is the key to determining any unusual changes that might have been triggered by cancer. Therefore, if you experience abnormal symptoms that persist for one or more weeks, it’s essential to see a gynecologist.
- Learning about your family history
This helps determine if you are at a high risk of developing gynecologic cancer. Therefore, if a member of your family has a history of reproductive system-related cancer, the doctor can recommend genetic counseling and testing.
- Practicing healthy lifestyle
A healthy lifestyle, including maintaining the average body mass index (BMI), is highly essential. This is because it helps minimize the risk factors associated with gynecologic malignancies such as ovarian and uterine cancer. Also, regular exercise, practicing safe intercourse, not smoking, and eating a healthy balanced diet is equally helpful.
- Protecting yourself against HPV
As stated earlier, HPV infection increases the chances of developing gynecological cancers. Therefore, if you have an infection, it’s essential to talk with the gynecologist regarding the available HPV tests. Also, if you don’t have the infection, then you should consider vaccination. This is to protect you against HPV strains that can result in cancer of the cervix, vagina, and vulvar.
Gynecologic malignancy is a term that refers to all types of cancers that develop in or on the female reproductive system. This can include the cervix, vagina, vulva, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tube. The treatment alternatives for these cancers usually depend on the origin. Therefore, understanding the type of malignancy translates to getting the right information regarding the condition.
CloudHospital specializes in overseeing the health condition of all women. It aims at diagnosing cancer at its early stage, treating, managing, and even preventing it. Furthermore, it works with skilled doctors and gynecologists with experience in addressing a range of related conditions.