September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month
Houston - September 01, 2016Approximately 98,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with a form of gynecologic cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Dr. Joshua Kilgore, gynecologic oncologist at Houston Methodist West Hospital, answers some important questions about gynecologic cancer.
Q: What is the most common gynecologic cancer in the world?
A: Cervical cancer is the most common, and it’s the second most common cause of death from cancer in women worldwide. In the U.S., with improved screening and awareness, the incidence of cervical cancer is declining as is the mortality. It is one of the most preventable types of cancer and can be detected by a screening Pap smear.
Q: What can you do to prevent cervical cancer?
A: Any woman 21 or older should make sure they have an annual gynecologic exam and Pap smear. Girls and women ages 13 to 26 should also consider the approved vaccine to prevent some of the most common types of the human papillomavirus (HPV), which causes most types of cervical cancer.
Q: What is endometrial cancer?
A: Endometrial cancer starts in the lining of the uterus, usually takes years to develop and commonly occurs in women who have already gone through menopause. Abnormal or postmenopausal bleeding is the most common symptom and should be evaluated by a gynecologist. There are several well-known risk factors for endometrial cancer including obesity, diabetes, hypertension and chronic anovulation. Obesity: Women who are overweight have a greater risk of developing endometrial cancer. Body fat produces estrogen, increasing the risk of endometrial cancer. In addition, women who are overweight are more likely to have co-existing diabetes and hypertension, all of which increase the risk of this cancer.
Treatment with tamoxifen: A drug used to prevent and treat breast cancer can slightly increase a women’s risk of developing endometrial cancer, but it’s a risk that’s balanced by the reduction in risk of breast cancer. If you use tamoxifen, notify your doctor if you have any unusual vaginal bleeding.
Q: What are some signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer?
A: Vaginal cancers, just like many other gynecologic cancers, do not typically cause any noticeable symptoms in the early stage. However, this may be detected on a Pap smear as part of an annual examination. As the disease develops, more noticeable symptoms appear, including:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
- Pelvic pain
- Lesion in the vagina
- A lump or bump in the groin.
Q: Should I be concerned about ovarian cancer?
A: While ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system, breakthroughs in treatment options have made this cancer much more manageable. Of the three kinds of ovarian cancer, epithelial is the most common, accounting for 85 percent of all cases.
Treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. All women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer should be tested for mutations in the BRCA gene, which in turn significantly increases the risk for breast cancer and may have health implications for other family members.
Q: What is the role of laparoscopic or robotic surgery in the treatment of gynecologic cancers?
A: Due to advances in technology, women with endometrial cancer, cervical cancer and early ovarian cancer are now candidates for surgery using laparoscopic or robotic approaches. The benefits of these minimally invasive techniques over the traditional open technique include smaller incisions, decreased blood loss, shorter hospital stay and quicker recovery. At Houston Methodist West Hospital, we offer these advanced surgical options to our patients with gynecologic malignancies.
For more information on gynecologic cancers, visit houstonmethodist.org/west or call 832.522.5522.
Houston Methodist West Hospital is committed to leading medicine in West Houston, Katy and surrounding communities by delivering the Houston Methodist standard of safety, quality, service and innovation. The growing campus offers nearly 200 beds and access to the most innovative medical and surgical care available, including robotic and minimally invasive surgery, full-spectrum heart care, state-of-the-art imaging, comprehensive cancer care, labor and delivery with a level II neonatal ICU, neurology and neurosurgery, orthopedics and sports medicine, outpatient rehabilitation and 24/7 emergency services.