SPRINGFIELD — While breast cancer has received a great deal of research and funding through awareness campaigns over recent years, it is far from the only serious health risk for women today.
Women’s Health Associates, a specialized women’s healthcare practice providing obstetrical and gynecological care in Springfield and Westfield, urges women to reduce their risk of gynecologic cancer to mark September’s designation as Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. While some gynecologic cancers are more well-known than others, all affect a woman’s quality of life. Every year, about 80,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, and 35,000 women die from it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“The five main types of gynecologic cancer are cervical cancer, ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer. Other types include fallopian-tube cancer and primary peritoneal cancer, a close relative of ovarian cancer,” said Dr. Robert Wool, a board-certified ob/gyn at Women’s Health Associates. “Each gynecologic cancer is unique, and each has its own signs, symptoms, and fatality rates. Only cervical cancer has an effective screening procedure that can detect it early.”
According to Wool, any woman is at risk of developing gynecologic cancer, and that risk increases with age. There is no way to know which women will be diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, but all women can lower their risks. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services at the CDC offers these tips for women to prevent gynecologic cancer or find it early:
• Pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or other signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer for two weeks or longer and they are not normal for you, talk to your doctor right away.
• Make healthy lifestyle choices. For overall good health, eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, avoid smoking, and practice safe sex.
• Know your family health history and share it with your doctor.
• Get regular pap tests. Pap tests (or pap smears) are one of the most reliable and effective cancer screening tests available. Pap tests can find precancerous changes on the cervix that can be treated so that cervical cancer is prevented. A pap test can also find cervical cancer early, when treatment is most effective. The only cancer the pap test screens for is cervical cancer.
• Get the human papillomavirus infection (HPV) test if it is recommended by your doctor. The HPV test looks for HPV infection, a common, sexually transmitted virus that can cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
“HPV infections that don’t go away can increase the risk of developing several types of gynecologic cancers. It is one of the most well-established risk factors for cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers,” said Wool. “Other risks can include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, menopause at a late age, use of certain medications, and not having been pregnant, believe it or not. If you have one or more of these factors, it does not mean that you will get gynecologic cancer, but you should speak with your doctor about ways to reduce your risk.”