Gynaecological cancers refer to cancers that occur in the female reproductive system, including the cervix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, and vulva. These cancers can occur in women of all ages but are more commonly seen in women over the age of 50. This blog highlights six alarming signs of gynaecological cancers that women should be aware of.
The most common types of gynaecological cancers are cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial (uterine) cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. Each of these cancers has its own set of symptoms, risk factors, and treatment options. The earlier these cancers are detected, the better the chances of successful treatment and improved outcomes. Therefore, it is essential to be aware of the alarming signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers to detect them as early as possible.
Alarming Signs of Gynaecological Cancers to Look Out For
There are several alarming signs of gynaecological cancers that women should look out for, including:
1. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding:
One of the most common symptoms of gynaecological cancers is abnormal vaginal bleeding. This can include bleeding between periods or unusually heavy or long periods, bleeding after sex, or post-menopausal bleeding.
There are several potential causes of abnormal vaginal bleeding, including hormonal imbalances, polyps or fibroids in the uterus, certain infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease (PID) or sexually transmitted infections (STIs), and endometriosis.
Abnormal vaginal bleeding can be a symptom of several gynaecological cancers, including cervical, uterine, ovarian, and vaginal cancers. Women should seek medical attention if they experience any abnormal vaginal bleeding. This is especially important for postmenopausal women, as any bleeding after menopause is considered abnormal and could be a sign of a more serious condition.
2. Pain or Discomfort in the Pelvic Area:
Pain or discomfort in the pelvic area is a common symptom that can be caused by a variety of conditions, including gynaecological cancers. This can include pain during sex, pain or pressure in the pelvis, or abdominal pain or cramping.
The potential causes of pelvic pain or discomfort include menstrual cramps, endometriosis, uterine fibroids, ovarian cysts, Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (PID), and gynaecological cancers such as ovarian, uterine, and cervical cancers.
If women experience persistent or worsening pelvic pain or discomfort, it is advisable to seek medical attention. It is particularly important to seek medical attention if these symptoms are accompanied by abnormal vaginal bleeding, fever, or difficulty in urination.
3. Unusual Vaginal Discharge:
Unusual vaginal discharge can be a concerning symptom for women and can be an indication of various gynaecological conditions, including infections and cancers. This can include discharge that is bloody, foul-smelling, or different from the normal discharge a woman may experience. Vaginal discharge is a normal occurrence in women, but a change in colour, odour, or consistency can indicate an underlying issue.
Unusual vaginal discharge can have several potential causes. Bacterial vaginosis, for instance, can cause a thin, greyish-white discharge with a fishy odour. Yeast infections, on the other hand, can cause a thick, white discharge, as well as itching and irritation. Trichomoniasis, a sexually transmitted infection caused by a parasite, can lead to greenish-yellow, frothy discharge and itching. Additionally, cervical cancer may cause watery, pink, or brown discharge with a strong odour. Endometrial cancer can cause watery, pink, or brown discharge with an unpleasant odour. Finally, vaginal cancer can cause a watery, bloody discharge and may also cause pain during sexual intercourse or urination.
Any changes in vaginal discharge should be evaluated by a healthcare provider, especially if it is accompanied by other symptoms like itching, burning, pain, or bleeding. Women should also seek medical attention if they notice unusual vaginal discharge after menopause or if the discharge has an unusual colour or odour.
4. Changes in Bladder or Bowel Habits:
Alterations in bowel or bladder habits may signify various conditions, including gynaecological cancers such as ovarian, cervical, and endometrial cancer. These symptoms can include frequent urination, an urgent need to urinate, difficulty in urination, urinary incontinence, painful urination or bowel movements, blood in urine or stool, constipation, or diarrhoea.
These symptoms may also arise from other conditions or factors such as dietary changes, medication side effects, or urinary tract infections, and not all women experiencing these symptoms have gynaecological cancer. Nevertheless, if you encounter any persistent changes in your bladder or bowel habits, it is crucial to discuss them with your healthcare provider and get evaluated to determine their underlying cause.
5. Painful Sex or Sexual Dysfunction:
Painful sex or sexual dysfunction can be a warning sign of gynaecological cancers, especially cervical or ovarian cancer. Symptoms may comprise pain during intercourse, reduced sex drive, or difficulty in arousal. However, numerous other causes can lead to these symptoms, including hormonal changes, medication side effects, or psychological factors.
Painful sex, also known as dyspareunia, can occur during or after sexual intercourse. It can be caused by a variety of factors, including vaginal dryness, infections, or trauma. In some cases, it can also be a symptom of gynaecological cancers such as cervical or ovarian cancer. Women with cervical cancer may experience painful intercourse due to the presence of a tumour or changes in the cervix. Similarly, women with ovarian cancer may experience painful intercourse due to the presence of a mass in the pelvic area.
Sexual dysfunction refers to a wide range of problems that can occur during sexual activity. It can include a lack of interest in sex or difficulty in reaching orgasm. Sexual dysfunction can be caused by a variety of factors, including hormonal imbalances, medication side effects, or psychological factors such as stress or anxiety. In some cases, sexual dysfunction can also be a symptom of gynaecological cancers.
If you are experiencing painful sex or sexual dysfunction, it is important to speak with your healthcare provider. They can help you determine the underlying cause of your symptoms and recommend appropriate treatment options. In some cases, gynaecological cancer may be the underlying cause, so it is important to seek medical attention promptly if you experience these symptoms.
6. Abdominal Distension or Bloating:
Abdominal distension or bloating can be an alarming sign of gynaecological cancers, such as ovarian or endometrial cancer. Symptoms of abdominal distension or bloating may include a feeling of fullness, bloating in the abdomen, unexplained weight loss, tightness in the abdomen, and changes in bowel habits, accompanied by pain or discomfort. However, bloating can also result from other conditions such as constipation, irritable bowel syndrome, or premenstrual syndrome. In certain cases, it can be a sign of gynaecological cancers, particularly ovarian or endometrial cancer.
Ovarian cancer can cause the buildup of fluid in the abdomen, which can lead to abdominal distension. Endometrial cancer can cause abnormal growth in the uterus, which can lead to a feeling of fullness or pressure in the abdomen. However, if you experience persistent bloating or abdominal swelling along with other symptoms such as pelvic pain or changes in bowel habits, it is crucial to speak with your healthcare provider to determine the underlying cause of your symptoms.
What To Do If You Have These Alarming Signs of Gynaecological Cancers?
If you are experiencing symptoms of gynaecological cancers, the first step is to schedule an appointment with a healthcare provider as soon as possible. A healthcare provider can perform a thorough evaluation and determine if further testing or referral to a specialist is necessary.
Depending on the symptoms and evaluation results, the healthcare provider may order imaging tests, such as ultrasound or MRI, or perform a biopsy to obtain a tissue sample for examination. These tests can help diagnose or rule out the presence of gynaecological cancers.
If gynaecological cancer is diagnosed, the healthcare provider will develop a treatment plan that is tailored to the individual’s specific needs. Treatment options can include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and targeted therapy. The treatment plan will depend on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the individual’s overall health and other factors.
It is also important for individuals to have a support system during this time, and they may benefit from seeking emotional support from family, friends, or a professional counsellor. Some individuals may also find it helpful to join support groups or connect with others who have experienced gynaecological cancers.
In conclusion, it’s crucial for women to be aware of the potential signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers. These cancers can be challenging to detect in their early stages, which is why recognizing the warning signs is essential. Symptoms such as unusual vaginal bleeding, pelvic pain or discomfort, painful sex or sexual dysfunction, and abdominal distension or bloating, along with other symptoms, can be a cause for concern and should be evaluated by a healthcare provider. While some of these symptoms can be attributed to other conditions, it’s important not to ignore them and seek medical attention promptly. Regular gynecologic check-ups and screening tests can also help detect these cancers early, increasing the chances of successful treatment and recovery.
How Can You Stay Cancer-Free?: A Checklist for Women
A Patient’s Guide to Cervical Cancer: by Dr Indu Bansal
Fertility Sparing Surgery: An Option In Early Stage Gynecological Cancers