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Diagnosing gynecologic cancer

Chances are someone you know may be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer in her lifetime. Just what are these diseases, and what should one expect?
Gynecologic cancer is a broad term that encompasses cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. As of 2006, the last year for which numbers were available, 76,515 women were told they had a gynecologic cancer and 27,848 died from one of these diseases.
For those uninformed about the different cancers that can plague women, here is a brief look at each of them.
Cervical
Cervical cancer is one of the most preventable of the gynecologic cancers because screening is available through PAP tests. There is also a vaccine available to prevent human papilloma virus infections, which are known to contribute to the formation of cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer forms in the cervix, which is the bottom part of the uterus and connects to the vagina. While all women are at risk, those over the age of 30 are more likely to get cervical cancer. However, recovery is high, as the cancer is highly treatable.
Ovarian
More women die from ovarian cancer than any other type of gynecologic cancer. However, detecting cancer early allows for the best chance for successful treatment.
Ovarian cancer produces symptoms, but many times they are mistaken for other conditions, such as irritable bowel, stress and depression. Symptoms may include abdominal pain and pressure, constipation, urinary urgency, loss of appetite, feeling full, and changes in menstruation.
Women with any of these symptoms should visit a doctor to rule out other conditions. Although it can affect many age groups, 90 percent of those who experience ovarian cancer are over the age of 40.
Uterine
Uterine cancer forms in the uterus, or the pear-shaped womb of the woman. This is where a baby forms and grows. Because the cancer generally takes hold in the lining of the uterus, it can be referred to as endometrial cancer.
No one is sure just what leads to uterine cancer, but there are some risk factors. Age is one of them; women over the age of 50 are more at risk. Also, women undergoing hormone replacement therapy for menopause or osteoporosis are at greater risk. Those who have had endometrial hyperplasia, or an increase in the number of cells in the lining of the uterus, are also at a higher risk for uterine cancer.
Vaginal and Vulvar
The vagina is the inner pathway to the uterus. The vulva is the outer part of the vagina that is protected by two folds of skin. Cancers in these parts of the body are very rare (1% and 5% respectfully).
Just as with cervical cancer, HPV may contribute to the formation of vaginal or vulvar cancers. Women should bring to doctors’ attention any symptoms that seem irregular, such as unexplained itching, bleeding or lumps in these areas of the body.

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