Definition and Overview

Gynaecologic cancers are a group of diseases that develops in the female's reproductive organs, such as the vulva, the vagina, cervix, uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes, which are all located in the pelvis. These gynaecologic cancers are named after the organ where the cancer cells have formed.

Below are the different types of gynaecologic cancers:

  • Cervical cancer is the cancer of the cervix, or the neck of the womb. It is known for its lack of symptoms in its early stages and is usually detected when it is too late for treatment, resulting in a rather dim prognosis. Research shows that there is only a 20% chance for stage 4 sufferers to live for at least five years after the diagnosis. Thus, experts highly recommend that women over 25 years old undergo regular cervical screening tests.

  • Endometrial or uterine cancer is the cancer of the uterus. Though the cervix is essentially a part of the uterus, endometrial or uterine cancer affects the corpus or the body of the organ. This cancer affects the endometrium, or the tissues that line the interior surface of the organ.

  • Fallopian tube cancer is a rare kind of gynaecologic cancer that affects the fallopian tubes, which serves as a link between the womb and the ovaries. Statistics shows that only one in every one hundred cases afflicts the fallopian tubes. However, recent research shows that many cases of ovarian cancer actually begin at the tip of the fallopian tubes connected to the ovaries.

  • Ovarian cancer is the development of cancerous growths in the ovaries. There are different types of ovarian growths, including epithelial tumours (which develop from the epithelial lining of the ovary’s outer surface), germ cell tumours from the ovum-producing cells, and stromal tumours (which develop from the cells that produce female hormones). Though most of these tumours are benign, some can become malignant and metastasize to the rest of the body.

  • Vaginal cancer is the development of cancer cells in the vagina, the canal that begins from the cervix and serves as the passage for natural birth. This is a rare form of gynaecologic cancer, which can affect the squamous or glandular cells that line the vaginal canal. Though rare, vaginal cancer is dangerous because it can metastasize to the bone, liver, or lungs.

  • Vulvar cancer affects the vulva, or the outer part of the female genitalia. This kind of cancer is quite rare.

  • Peritoneal cancer is a rare form of cancer but can appear as ovarian cancer upon initial diagnosis. This cancer typically develops in the abdominal region instead of the reproductive organs, but can seriously affect, through metastasis, the female reproductive system.

Causes of Condition

The causes of different types of gynaecologic cancers vary. Here are some of the common causes of the conditions, according to the area where they develop:

  • Cervical cancer is usually caused by HPV, or the human papillomavirus, which is usually transmitted through sexual contact. Though there are over a hundred types of HPV, only a few strains have been proven by research to cause cervical cancer, with HPV 16 and HPV 18 being responsible for the majority of the cases. Some studies show that patients have an increased risk of cervical cancer if they smoke, have multiple sexual partners, take or have taken oral contraceptives, and have engaged in sexual contact very early in life.

  • The cause of endometrial cancer remains unknown to medical professionals but some research associate the intake of oestrogen alone (without the usual accompanying hormone progesterone), being obese, having diabetes mellitus, and having high blood pressure to the increased risk of developing the disease.

  • Current research on fallopian tube cancer has not determined the exact cause of the condition. However, research shows a link between a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, as well as chronic infection of the female reproductive organs, to its development.

  • The exact cause of ovarian cancer is also unknown. However, research shows that age and family history of ovarian or breast cancer are risk factors.

  • There are several risk factors for vaginal cancer including advanced age, foetal exposure to diethylstilbestrol or DES, HPV infection, and a history of cervical or uterine cancer.

Key Symptoms

Many forms of gynaecologic cancer do not exhibit early signs or symptoms, and if they do, the symptoms can easily be mistaken for and treated as another condition. It is best to consult a gynaecologist if you experience the following:

  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding outside the monthly period or after menopause
  • Suspicious back or abdominal pain
  • Abnormal bloating in the lower abdominal area
  • Significant changes in bathroom habits
  • Pain or bleeding during sexual intercourse
  • Inexplicable pain or pressure in the pelvic area
  • Lumps in the pelvic area
  • Changes in the skin of the vulva, including discoloration and the growth of ulcers, warts, or rashes

Who to See and Types of Treatment Available

A gynaecologist is the best medical professional to consult if you experience the symptoms described above. The gynaecologist can order diagnostic procedures such as pap smear, biopsies, ultrasound, X-rays, CT and PET scans, or MRI to determine the presence of cancerous growth.

Most of these cancers can be treated by surgically removing the tumours or cancerous growths. They can also be frozen or heated in more modern procedures. Radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and biologic therapy are also known to be common treatment or management procedures for gynaecologic cancers.

In the case of uterine cancer, a hysterectomy can be performed to remove the cancerous growths, as well as to prevent metastasis to other organs.

There are also vaccines that can prevent HPV infection, which in turn can lower the risk of various kinds of gynaecologic cancers.

References:

  • Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloff's Clinical Oncology. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2014.

  • Perry MC. Approach to the patient with cancer. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman's Cecil Medicine. 24th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2012:chap 182.

  • Siegel RL, Miller KD, Jemal A. Cancer statistics, 2015. CA Cancer J Clin. 2015;65:5-29.

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