The symptoms of gynaecological cancers depend on where the tumour is situated, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing.
Symptoms that may be caused by gynaecological cancers include:
- abnormal or persistent vaginal bleeding e.g. bleeding after menopause or that is not part of the menstrual periods, bleeding after sex
- unusual vaginal discharge
- pain, pressure or discomfort in the abdomen
- swelling of the abdomen
- change in bowel or bladder habits
- pain during sex
- itching, burning or soreness
- lumps, sores or wart-like growths.
There are a number of conditions that may cause these symptoms. If any of these symptoms are experienced for a prolonged period of time, or if you are experiencing a number of these symptoms at the same time, it is important that you discuss these with your GP.
Know and listen to your body.
A risk factor is any factor that is associated with an increased chance of developing a particular health condition, such as gynaecological cancer. There are different types of risk factors, some of which can be modified and some which cannot.
It should be noted that having one or more risk factors does not mean a woman will develop a gynaecological cancer. Many women have at least one risk factor but will never develop a gynaecological cancer, while others with a gynaecological cancer may have had no known risk factors. Even if a woman with a gynaecological cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know how much that risk factor contributed to the development of her disease.
While the causes of many gynaecological cancers are not fully understood, there are a number of factors associated with the risk of developing one or more types of gynaecological cancer. These risk factors include:
- increasing age
- having a strong family history
- identified gene mutations
- reproductive history such as child-bearing
- exposure to hormones – produced by the body or taken as medication
- exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the womb
- viral infection such as human papilloma virus (HPV)
- lifestyle factors such as smoking and those leading to excess body weight
How are gynaecological cancers diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a gynaecological cancer may involve a number of tests, including:
- a physical examination, with a pelvic examination
- a Pap smear (cervical cancer only)
- blood tests such as a CA125
- imaging tests – which may include a transvaginal ultrasound or a CT scan, Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or PET scans may also be suggested.
- taking a sample of tissue (biopsy) for examination under a microscope.
Treatment and care of women with gynaecological cancers is usually provided by a team of health professionals – called a multidisciplinary team.
Treatment for gynaecological cancers depends on the stage and type of the disease, the severity of symptoms and the woman’s general health. Treatment often usually involves surgery to remove as much of the tumour as possible, and to determine its stage (how far the cancer may have spread). Radiotherapy, chemotherapy, and hormonal therapies, may also be used.
Research is ongoing to find new ways to diagnose and treat different types of cancer. Some women may be offered the option of participation in a clinical trial to test new ways of treating their gynaecological cancer.
For more information on symptoms, treatment and types of gynaecological cancers visit the Cancer Australia website.
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