Compared to the other types of cancers like breast or colon cancer, gynaecological cancers are less common. Given this, all women are at risk of developing gynaecological cancers, and the risk only increases with age. Gynaecological Cancer is a common term used to describe the cancers that start in a woman’s reproductive organs. Gynaecological cancers begin in a woman’s pelvis, i.e. below the stomach and in between the hip bones. They are broadly classified into six types of gynaecological cancers – Cervical, Uterine, Ovarian, Vaginal, Vulvar and Fallopian tube.
Like any cancer, the warning signs of the cancer are quite a few. They would include swollen legs, abnormal vaginal bleeding, unexplained weight loss, vaginal discharge coloured with blood, constantly needing bathroom breaks, loss of appetite, constantly feeling full, pain in the pelvis or abdominal area, belly bloat etc. It is unfortunate to note that most women tend to ignore their health and fail to give enough importance to their physical and emotional well-being.
Talking of the issues relating to gynaecological disorders like excessive bleeding, pain in the pelvic region, urgent and frequent urination etc., are still taboo. Though a canopy term, gynaecological cancers present various signs and symptoms, depending on the organ that’s affected.
Types of gynaecological cancers:
1. Ovarian Cancer
Pain in the abdomen and pelvic region. Difficulty while eating, bloating and feeling full instantly.
2. Cervical Cancer
Persistent vaginal bleeding, watery vaginal discharge with traces of blood, pelvic pain during intercourse.
3. Vulvar Cancer
Continuous itching, changes in the skin colour and thickening, bleeding between periods, presence of wart or ulcer.
4. Uterine Cancer
Abnormal and heavy bleeding, intense, continuous pain in the pelvic region.
5. Vaginal Cancer
Heavy bleeding not related to menstruation, constipation, pain while urinating, discomfort, and pain during sexual intercourse.
6. Fallopian Tube Cancer
The cancerous growth in fallopian tubes though sporadic, manifests itself through bloating, indigestion, back pain, difficulty while eating, and severe fatigue.
Despite palpable symptoms, it is often noted that many tend to believe in various myths and delay diagnosis and treatment.
Here are a few common myths and facts often associated with gynaecological cancers:
Gynaecological cancers do not present with any signs and symptoms in the early stages.
Not true. Many women with gynaecological cancers often have early warning signs. The most common symptoms include abdominal bloating, swelling, pain and discomfort in the pelvic region, urinary incontinence, heavy, abnormal bleeding and discharge. If one notices any of the above symptoms, consult a doctor immediately as gynaecological cancers in some instances tend to grow at an exponential rate.
It is not possible to detect ovarian cancer at the early stage.
Partially true. However, do not ignore typical symptoms like intense pain in the abdomen, pelvic region and gastrointestinal issues. If one has a family history of cancer, it is necessary to watch out for the warning signs. Obesity, menopause, and genetic mutations are other significant factors. With advanced diagnostics in place, ovarian cancer can be detected early and treated, which substantially increases the survival rate.
Pap smear is enough to diagnose all gynaecological cancers.
Not true. A Pap test aids only in detecting cervical cancer, even at an early stage. The test also helps in finding the precancerous cell changes in the cervix. This test cannot, however, detect ovarian and uterine cancers. A pelvic exam conducted to check the presence of mass correlates with the imaging and diagnostic tests for accurate diagnosis.
Being on birth control pill increases the risk of gynaecological cancers.
Not true. There is no definite study to establish the link between the usage of birth control pills and increased chances of gynaecological cancers. However, it is important to consult a doctor in case of adverse changes in health.
One cannot get gynaecological cancer after hysterectomy.
Not true. Hysterectomy cannot prevent the growth of cancer cells in the female reproductive organs. There were cases where cancer cells were detected in the place where once the ovaries were.
Women with no family history of gynaecological or any other type of cancer, think they are safe and not have to go for regular tests.
Not true: Most women diagnosed with any one of the gynaecological cancers do not have a family history of cancerous tumours. It is essential to keep track of health, pay close attention to the warning signs, lead a healthy life and ensure regular tests. Remember, early detection increases the survival rate tremendously.
Getting diagnosed with cancer can be very scary indeed, but the real worry should be about the delay in its diagnosis. Do not hesitate to meet the doctor immediately, in case of any tell-tale signs and symptoms.