Gynecological cancers

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Gynecologic cancer is cancer originating in the female reproductive organs. Gynecological cancers include cancer of the cervix, fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, vagina, and vulva.
Gynecologic cancer affects many women, with about 80,000 new cases diagnosed in the United States each year. About half of those cases are uterine cancer. The risk of getting cancer increases with age, and inherited gene mutations or a family history of cancer may increase the risk.
Gynecological cancers can be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancerous).
Ovarian cancer, with more than 22,000 new cases estimated per year, is the second most common gynecologic cancer, and it accounts for more than 16,000 deaths annually.
Gynecologic cancer is a serious disease but in the majority of cases, it can be treated and cured. Gynecologic cancer may be treated by specialized surgical procedures, radiation therapy, and/or chemotherapy.
For more information on ovarian and cervical cancers, see the respective condition monographs.

Related Terms

Adenocarcinoma, benign, bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy, cervical cancer, cervical dysplasia, cervix, chemotherapy, D & C, DES, diethylstilbestrol, dilatation and curettage, endometrial biopsy, endometrial cancer, endometriosis, endometrium, estrogen, fallopian tubes, fundus, gynecological cancers, hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer, HNPCC, hormone therapy, HPV, human papillomaviruses, lichen sclerosis, malignant, melanoma, menstruation, myometrium, ovaries, PCOS, perimenopause, polycystic ovary syndrome, progesterone, radiation, squamous cell cancer, uterine cancer, uterus, VIN, vulvar cancer, vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia.

types of gynecological cancers

Cervical cancer: Cervical cancer develops in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus (womb) entering the vagina (birth canal). Cells usually change from normal to pre-cancer and then to cancer over a number of years, although some cases can happen more quickly. These changes are referred to by several terms, including cervical dysplasia (also known as cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN). For some women, these changes may go away without any treatment, but more often they need to be treated to prevent them from becoming true cancers.
Cervical cancer is the focus of intense screening efforts using the Pap smear (also known as Pap test). The Pap smear is a diagnostic procedure that checks for changes in the cells of the cervix. In developed countries, the widespread use of cervical screening programs, such as Pap smear testing, has reduced the incidence of invasive cervical cancer by 50% or more.
The causes of cervical cancer include the human papilloma virus (HPV).
The American Cancer Society predicts that there will be about 11,150 new cases of invasive cervical cancer in the United States in 2007. About 3,670 women will die from this disease that same year, and it most commonly develops in women aged 40 years or older. Currently, 11% of U.S. women report that they do not have regular cervical cancer screenings.
See the Cervical Cancer condition monograph for more details.
Endometrial cancer:Endometrial cancer, carcinoma of the lining of the uterus, is the most common gynecologic malignancy, comprising approximately 95% of all uterine cancers diagnosed. Approximately 40,000 American women receive a diagnosis of endometrial cancer each year, making it the fourth most common cancer found in women, after breast cancer, lung cancer, and colon cancer. Endometrial cancer is most common after the reproductive years, between the ages of 60 and 70.
The uterus is part of a woman's reproductive system. It is the hollow, upside down, pear-shaped organ (womb) in which a baby grows. The uterus is in the pelvis between the bladder and the rectum. The narrow, lower portion of the uterus is the cervix. The broad, middle part of the uterus is the body or corpus. The dome-shaped top of the uterus is the fundus. The fallopian tubes extend from either side of the top of the uterus to the ovaries. The wall of the uterus has two layers of tissue. The inner layer, or lining, is the endometrium. The outer layer is muscle tissue called the myometrium. Uterine cancer originates in the myometrium and accounts for less than 10% of uterine cancer cases.
In women of childbearing age, the lining of the uterus grows and thickens each month to prepare for pregnancy. If a woman does not become pregnant, the thick, bloody lining flows out of the body through the vagina. This flow is called menstruation.
Endometrial cancer is often detected at an early stage because it frequently produces vaginal bleeding between menstrual periods or after menopause. If discovered early, this slow-growing cancer is likely to be confined to the uterus. Removing the uterus surgically often eliminates all of the cancer (see Treatment: hysterectomy). Unfortunately, not all endometrial cancer can be successfully treated. In these cases, the cancer has spread beyond the uterus by the time it is detected. The National Cancer Institute estimates that about 7,000 American women die each year of endometrial cancer.
Ovarian cancer: Women have two ovaries, one on each side of the uterus. The ovaries, each about the size of an almond, produce eggs (ova) as well as the female sex hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer is a disease in which normal ovarian cells begin to grow in an uncontrolled, abnormal manner and produce tumors in one or both ovaries.
According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer ranks fifth in cancer deaths among women. Approximately 20,000 women in the United States develop ovarian cancer annually. About 15,000 deaths from ovarian cancer will occur in American women during that same time frame.
The chances of surviving ovarian cancer are better if the cancer is found early. But because the disease is difficult to detect in its early stage, only about 20 percent of ovarian cancers are found before tumor growth has spread into adjacent tissues and organs beyond the ovaries. Most of the time, the disease has already advanced before it's diagnosed.
Until recently, doctors thought that early-stage ovarian cancer rarely produced any symptoms. But new evidence has shown that most women may have signs and symptoms even in the early stages of the disease. Being aware of them may lead to earlier detection.
See the Ovarian Cancer condition monograph for more details.
Vaginal cancer: Cancer of the vagina, a rare type of gynecological cancer in women, is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the tissues of the vagina. The vagina is the passageway through which fluid passes out of the body during menstrual periods and through which a woman gives birth. It is also called the "birth canal." The vagina connects the cervix (the opening of the womb or uterus) and the vulva (the folds of skin around the opening to the vagina).
There are two types of cancer of the vagina - squamous cell cancer (squamous carcinoma) and adenocarcinoma. Squamous carcinoma is usually found in women between the ages of 60 and 80. Adenocarcinoma is more often found in women between the ages of 12 and 30.
Individuals infected with human papillomaviruses (HPV) or certain subtypes of HPV may be also be at risk for vaginal cancer.
Vulvar cancer: Cancer of the vulva, a rare kind of cancer in women, is a disease in which cancer cells are found in the vulva. The vulva is the outer part of a woman's vagina. The vagina is the passage between the uterus (the hollow, pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows) and the outside of the body.
Approximately 4,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with vulvar cancer annually. Most women with cancer of the vulva are over age 50. However, it is becoming more common in women under age 40. Women who have constant itching and changes in the color and the way the vulva looks are at a high risk to get cancer of the vulva. A clinician should be seen if there is bleeding or discharge not related to menstruation (periods), severe burning/itching or pain in the vulva, or if the skin of the vulva looks white and feels rough. The chance of recovery and choice of treatment depend on the whether the cancer in the vulva has spread to other places as well as the individual's general state of health.