By Dr. Monica Mansour | Family Medicine Residency
September was gynecologic cancer awareness month, but it is always a good time to learn about these diseases. There are five main types to be aware of: cervical, ovarian, uterine/endometrial, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, in 2021 an estimated 110,000 women will be diagnosed with one of these cancers and approximately 32,500 may die from them.
Steps to lower your risk of gynecological cancer:
- Practice safe sex. Use condoms and ensure you and your partner(s) are routinely getting checked out for sexually transmitted infections.
- Avoid smoking cigarettes. Cigarette smoking increases your risk of cervical, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Talk to your doctor if you need help quitting.
- Get your HPV vaccine. Males and females aged 9-45 years may qualify for it. The vaccine helps reduce the spread of the human papilloma virus which causes abnormal pap smears in females, as well as cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. The HPV virus can also cause cancers of the head, neck, and anus.
- Talk with your doctor about your medical history. When you started your period, if you have ever been pregnant, if you had fertility issues, or have a history of endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome. These and other facts will help you and your doctor come up with a plan that is right for you.
- Know your family history. Risk for developing ovarian or uterine/endometrial cancer is higher in people who have a family history of these cancers. A family history of breast cancer, and any other cancer, is also important to share with your doctor.
- Be aware of your body and talk to your doctor about new changes that don’t feel right to you. Irregular vaginal bleeding or bleeding after sex, pelvic pain or bloating, sores or lumps of the vagina are some symptoms that you should get checked out.
- Unfortunately, many gynecological cancers do NOT have symptoms. Talk with your doctor to determine how often you need a pap smear and don’t skip out on your annual exams. This is a great time for you and your doctor to check in with each other.
Schedule an appointment today with a NOAH provider to discuss your health history, family health, questions, or concerns, and get any needed tests or screenings scheduled. Prevention and early detection are the best ways to keep you and loved ones safe from gynecological cancer.