Types of Gynecologic Cancers
and Non-Cancerous Conditions
Gynecologic cancer is a group of cancers that affect the tissue and organs of the female reproductive system. Because each type of gynecological cancer is unique, we feel it’s important that you have as much information as possible. Understanding more about your specific condition and the different types of gynecologic cancers can help you better navigate your gynecologic cancer journey.
Common Types of Gynecological Cancers
While there are six main types of gynecologic cancers, there are three that are more common than the others. We offer extensive information on each of the following types of female cancers:
Less Common Types of Gynecological Cancers
Below is information regarding less common types of gynecological cancers.
Vaginal cancer is a rare cancer that begins in the vagina with two-thirds of the cases being caused by certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). There are five primary types of cancers that form in the vagina that include:
- Squamous cell carcinoma, which develops in the cells lining the vagina and makes up about 85% of all vaginal cancers.
- Adenocarcinoma, which begins in the vaginal gland tissue. It makes up about 5% to 10% of vaginal cancers.
- Melanoma, which although is usually found more on skin exposed to sun, can form in areas that do not receive sun exposure.
- Clear cell adenocarcinoma, which can occur in women whose mothers took the drug diethylstilbestrol (DES) during pregnancy between the late 1940s and 1971. It is estimated that vaginal cancer will develop in 1 out of 1,000 women who were exposed to DES.
- Sarcomas, which are rare tumors that can arise in the vagina. Fewer than three out of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are sarcomas.
Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over years, most often on the vaginal lips or the sides of the vaginal opening. Infection with human papillomavirus (HPV) causes about half of all vulvar cancers. The most common is squamous cell carcinoma, which usually develops on the labia and accounts for about 90% of vulvar cancers.
Other, less common vulvar cancers include melanoma, sarcoma, adenocarcinoma (starts in the Bartholin’s glands or vulvar sweat glands), and verrucous carcinoma, a slow-growing subtype of squamous cell carcinoma that resembles a wart.
Fallopian Tube Cancer
Fallopian tube cancer is incredibly rare, accounting for only 1-2% of all gynecologic cancers. It typically forms in the cells that line the inside of the fallopian tubes, the two tiny ducts that connect the ovaries to the uterus.
The most common type of fallopian tube cancer is called adenocarcinoma (a cancer of cells from glands). Leiomyosarcoma (a cancer of smooth muscle cells) and transitional cell carcinoma (a cancer of the cells lining the fallopian tubes) are even more rare.
While some fallopian tube cancers actually begin in the tubes themselves, fallopian tube cancer is more often the result of cancer spreading from other parts of the body to the tubes.
Gestational Trophoblastic Disease
Gestational trophoblastic disease (GTD) is a general term for rare tumors that form from the tissues surrounding a fertilized egg. The most common type of GTD is a hydatidiform mole (HM), a slow-growing tumor that develops from trophoblastic cells (cells that help an embryo attach to the uterus and help form the placenta) after fertilization of an egg by a sperm.
The good news is that GTD is often found early and in most cases, cured.
Benign (Non-Cancerous) Gynecologic Conditions
In addition to treating and caring for women with cancers of the female reproductive organs, the gynecologic specialists at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers also specialize in pre-cancers and non-cancerous gynecologic conditions, as well as pregnancy-related tumors.
Most non-cancerous medical conditions of the female reproductive system are not serious and in many cases will resolve themselves or can be treated with medications.
There are times, however, that surgical intervention is needed. Below are some examples of gynecologic conditions that may require surgery.
- Fibroids. These benign growths originate within the uterine muscle wall and are typically diagnosed during a pelvic exam. In most cases, these growths don’t produce symptoms. However, depending on the size or location, fibroids can cause pain, bleeding, or disrupted function of nearby organs. Fibroids are categorized as submucosal, intramural, or subserosal.
- Ovarian cysts. Most ovarian cysts are benign and naturally go away on their own. Those that don’t resolve themselves can continue to grow causing symptoms that may include abdominal bloating, and complications like ovarian torsion (when the ovaries become twisted and cut off the blood supply to the organ) which may require surgical intervention. While there are various types of ovarian cysts, functional cysts, which come in two types and develop as a result of your menstrual cycle, are the most common.
- Endometriosis. Endometriosis is a benign condition in which tissue that looks like endometrial tissue grows in abnormal places in the abdomen. Endometriosis can cause pain that may worsen over time especially during menstrual periods. However, this pain often subsides during pregnancy and stops after menopause. In some cases, infertility may arise. Fortunately, effective treatments are available.
- Adhesions, Pelvic Masses, or Pelvic Infection. These benign but complicated gynecological conditions may also necessitate surgical intervention depending upon their severity. Your physician can help determine the cause and nature of the adhesion, mass, or infection and formulate an individualized treatment plan that’s right for you.