8 Signs of Gynecologic Cancer Women Need to Know

5 min read

8 Signs of Gynecologic Cancer Women Need to Know

When it comes to cancers that affect the female reproductive system — you are your best advocate. You also need to know the warning signs of various gynecologic cancers, including cervical, ovarian, and uterine, as well as less common types like vaginal and vulvar cancer. Paying attention to changes in your body can save your life. By doing so, you may be able to detect cancer early, which can significantly improve your chances of successful treatment. 

Let’s take a closer look at some signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers. 

Common Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers

Keep in mind that experiencing the following symptoms does not necessarily mean you have cancer. These symptoms can cross over to other conditions related to the female reproductive system. 

1. Abnormal Vaginal Bleeding or Discharge

Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge is a common symptom of most types of gynecologic cancers. Bleeding is especially common for women with endometrial cancer, a type of uterine cancer. Over 90% of women with endometrial cancer reported abnormal bleeding before their diagnoses. 

This symptom requires you to know what’s normal for you. If you are bleeding after menopause, it should be reported to your gynecologist right away. Other types of bleeding to discuss with the doctor include: 

  • bleeding outside of your menstrual cycle
  • heavy bleeding
  • bleeding during sex
  • discharge tinged with blood

2. Sudden, Unexplained Weight Loss

If you suddenly lose weight without focusing on your diet or exercise, it is important to consult your doctor. This could be a sign of cancer or an underlying medical condition that needs to be diagnosed and treated.

3. Loss of Appetite

Lack of appetite or feeling full without eating (or eating very little) could be a gynecologic cancer symptom. If cancer develops in the pelvic area, it can put pressure on your stomach, causing you to feel full quickly or not feel hungry at all.

4. Digestive Issues Related to Gynecologic Cancers

Digestive issues are very common, especially as women age. It’s not a reason to panic, but you shouldn’t ignore them. Ninety percent of ovarian cancer patients reported digestive symptoms. 

Common symptoms including frequent bloating, indigestion, nausea, diarrhea, or constipation, should be discussed. Some of these could be related to your regular monthly cycle. However, if you can’t find a cause, making an appointment with your gynecologist is a good idea. Before you go, take note of eating and drinking habits, including the amount of water you drink each day, to help identify patterns that could lead to diagnosing the cause of these conditions.

5. Pain During Sex

If you experience pain during sex, it could be due to a variety of reasons. The most common cause is post-menopausal vaginal dryness. However, women with ovarian cancer and advanced cervical cancer both report this as a symptom. Talk with your gynecologist about this. Even if you do not have cancer, your doctor may be able to help relieve this pain. 

6. Urgent or Frequent Urination 

If you suddenly feel the need to urinate or you need to use the bathroom more frequently than usual, this could be a sign of ovarian or vaginal cancer as well as other conditions such as incontinence or type 2 diabetes. This is particularly important if you are not pregnant or have not increased your liquid intake. In all of these situations, a physician can assist you with identifying the cause and treatment. 

7. Discomfort in the Pelvis or Abdominal Area 

Pain or discomfort in the pelvis or abdominal area are also symptoms associated with ovarian and endometrial cancer. This can simply be pain or pressure with no other symptoms, or it can be accompanied by digestive issues such as frequent gas, indigestion, or bloating that’s not caused by another condition. 

8. Pain or Discomfort in the Vulva

Vulvar cancer is a rare medical condition that usually develops slowly. The most apparent sign is a sore that won’t heal or a lump in the vulva area outside of the genitals. Other symptoms of vulvar cancer include pain, burning, itching, or tenderness in the vulva. 

How Can I Lower My Risk of Gynecologic Cancers?

There are several steps you can take to lower your risk of developing gynecologic cancers: 

  • Be in tune with your body, knowing what is normal for you and what isn’t. This will help you notice new or unusual symptoms.
  • Schedule routine gynecologic exams that include screening tests, such as a Pap test for cervical cancer and an HPV test. The HPV test will help determine if the human papillomavirus is present. Some strains of HPV cause cervical cancer. If the test is positive for HPV, your doctor may suggest more frequent screening tests to monitor your health.
  • Live a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a nutritious, well-balanced diet. 
  • Do not smoke.
  • Know your family history of gynecologic cancers. Some inherited genetic mutations increase your risk of developing a type of gynecologic cancer, especially ovarian. Talk with your gynecologist about relatives with gynecologic cancers. They may recommend genetic testing to determine your personal risk. 
  • Consider a vaccine to reduce the likelihood of developing cervical cancer and other cancers caused by HPV.

Related blog: HPV and Cervical Cancer: What’s the Connection

Diagnosing Gynecologic Cancers

If you experience any unusual symptoms for over two weeks, scheduling an appointment with your gynecologist is important. During your appointment, the physician will likely perform an examination, conduct tests, which can include blood tests, and possibly request imaging to detect any growths or signs of other conditions in your reproductive organs. A biopsy is also likely to be performed to test tissue for cancer cells. 

If cancer is present, a gynecologic oncologist will typically direct your treatment. Your recommended treatment plan is based on the type of cancer, stage, and overall health. Surgery is usually performed to remove the cancer, often followed by additional treatments such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, and/or immunotherapy.

Related blog: 6 Things to Know About a Cervical Cancer Diagnosis

Expert Gynecologic Cancer Care in Colorado

If you have recently been diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, the oncologists at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers are here to help. Our team will develop a personalized treatment plan and the supportive care you need to navigate your cancer care journey. We are also available to provide second opinions on treatment recommendations.