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Commonly Asked Questions About Gynecologic Cancers

Gynecologic cancer includes cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Currently, the only one with a screening test to help prevent the disease or find it early is cancer of the cervix. Since signs and symptoms are not the same for everybody, it’s important get the facts and learn what you can do to prevent it from happening to you.

What are gynecologic cancers?
Gynecologic cancers are the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal cells originating in the female reproductive organs, including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva.

What causes gynecologic cancers?
There are many factors that cause gynecologic cancers. Medical research has discovered that some classes of genes, called oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, promote the growth of cancer. The abnormal function of these genes can be acquired (e.g., through smoking, aging, environmental influences) or inherited. Almost all cervical cancers and some cancers of the vagina and vulva are caused by a virus known as HPV, or Human Papillomavirus.

Can gynecologic cancers be prevented?
Screening and self-examinations conducted regularly can result in the detection of certain types of gynecologic cancers in their earlier stages, when treatment is more likely to be successful and a complete cure is a possibility. Diet, exercise and lifestyle choices play a significant role in the prevention of cancer. Additionally, knowledge of family history can increase the chance of prevention or early diagnosis by determining if someone may have a gene which makes them susceptible to cancer.

Who should treat gynecologic cancers? Gynecologic cancers should be treated by a specialist with advanced training and demonstrated competence, such as a gynecologic oncologist.

A gynecologic oncologist is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist who has an additional three to four years of specialized training in treating gynecologic cancers from an American Board of Obstetrics and Gynecology-approved fellowship program. This subspecialty program provides training in the biology and pathology of gynecologic cancers, as well as in all forms of treatment for these diseases, including surgery, radiation, chemotherapy and experimental treatments.

How are gynecologic cancers treated?
Gynecologic cancers are treated by ususing one or more of the following: surgery, radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy. The choice of therapy(s) depends on the type and stage of the cancer.

Who is at risk?
Every woman is at risk for developing a gynecologic cancer. It is estimated that there will be about 98,000 new cases diagnosed and approximately 30,000 deaths from gynecologic cancers in the
United States.