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By  Dr Tanushree Jain, MS, MCH
Gynecologic Oncosurgeon
National Cancer Institute, Nagpur
     
On 03 June 2020

Five main types of cancer affect  woman’s reproductive organs: cervix,ovary,uterus,vagina, and vulva. As a group, they are referred to as gynecological cancers. 

Almost one fourth of cancers in Indian women are gynecological cancers. The commonest being cervical cancer. More women in India die from cervical cancer than in any other country.

Each cancer is unique, with different signs, symptoms, and risk factors.

Warning signs

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding,
  • Pain or feeling of heaviness in the abdomen
  • Frequent or urgent need to urinate,
  • Feeling full too quickly after eating,
  • Constipation
  • Changes in the external genital area like skin colour, rashes, sores and warts

What can you do?

Unfortunately, screening test (PAP smear, HPV testing, VIA/VILI) to detect precancerous disease or early stage cancer is available only for cervical cancer. For other gynecological cancers, the only way is to recognize the early warning signs and consult a Gynecologic Oncologist. 

1. Screening

For women 21 to 29 years old, pap smear can be performed once every three years.

For women aged 30 to 65, pap screening alone can be taken every three years or HPV testing along with pap smear screening (called cotesting) every five years.

2. Get in touch with a Specialist

Consultation with a Gynecologic Oncologist also becomes important for females who have multiple risk factors (obesity, women who never had children, HIV, multiple sexual partners) significant family history of cancer.

Up to 20 percent of ovarian cancer cases may be hereditary. We can identify women who are at highest risk of ovarian cancer by having them answer a few simple questions about their personal and family history. Once those individuals who carry such high risk mutations are identified, cancer risk can be reduced by regular consultation with screening tests and risk-reducing measures.

3. Prevention

HPV infection is one of the preventable cause of female precancerous lesions. A vaccine is now available that can be offered to young females preferably in their teens.

Almost half of all endometrial cancer cases are related to obesity and lack of physical activity. By improving our diet and adding 30 minutes of exercise every day, we could cut the rates of endometrial cancer in half.

Therefore, the ways to protect oneself from the development of gynecological cancers include:

  • Regular Gynecologic Oncologist consultation with screening tests as advised,
  • Risk-reducing surgeries or other measures (e.g. regular screening pertinent to specific cancer and/or chemoprevention) in patients with hereditary risk of cancer,
  • Early reporting of warning signs and consultation,
  • Healthy life style,
  • Safe sexual practices,
  • Weight reduction in obese females,
  • Personal and genital hygiene,
  • Quit smoking,
  • Avoidance of hormonal pills without medical supervision.