Ovarian, uterine (or endometrial), and cervical cancers are the most common and serious gynecologic malignancies.
Ovarian cancer occurs in about 1 in every 57 women in the U.S. The disease is more likely to develop in women over the age of 50, although younger women may also be affected. Ovarian cancer that begins on the surface of the ovary is the most common type.
How it's detected: The symptoms of ovarian cancer, such as stomach bloating, are often mild and vague, making it difficult to detect. Pelvic exam, ultrasound, CT scan, and biopsy are just some of the diagnostic tools used to detect ovarian cancer.
How it's diagnosed: Diagnosis is usually confirmed through biopsy, or the removal of some of the suspected tumor. Further tests may be performed to determine the stage of ovarian cancer.
How it's treated: Surgery is usually the first course of treatment for women diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The surgeon will remove the ovaries, the fallopian tubes, the uterus, and the cervix. A course of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy usually follows.
The most common type of cancer of the uterus begins in the lining (endometrium). It is called endometrial cancer, uterine cancer, or cancer of the uterus. Although there are specific risk factors for uterine cancer, the medical world is still uncertain as to why some women develop uterine cancer and others do not. Common risk factors for uterine cancer include:
- Are over age 50 (more common in women over age 50)
- Have the condition known as endometrial hyperplasia
- Take hormone replacement therapy
- Are obese
- Take tamoxifen, a drug used to prevent or treat breast cancer
- Are Caucasian (White women are more likely to develop uterine cancer than African American women)
- Have colorectal cancer
How it's detected: Pelvic exam and transvaginal ultrasound are used to detect uterine cancer.
How it's diagnosed: Definitive diagnosis usually occurs with biopsy. A physician may use blood and urine tests, X-ray, CT, ultrasound, MRI, or colonscopy to determine the stage or progression of disease. Most often, the disease is staged through hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus.
How it's treated: Most women with uterine cancer are treated with surgery, often followed by radiation therapy.
Each year, about 15,000 women in the U.S. develop cervical cancer.
How it's detected: In a pelvic exam, the doctor checks the uterus, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, bladder, and rectum. The Pap test is a simple, painless test to detect abnormal cells in and around the cervix. The physician may also use an instrument called a colposcope to examine the cervix.
How it's diagnosed: Cervical cancer is usually officially diagnosed through analysis of a small amount of cervical tissue, or biopsy in a laboratory.
How it's treated: Most often, treatment for cervical cancer involves surgery and radiation therapy. Sometimes, chemotherapy or biological therapy is used. Patients are often treated by a team of specialists, including gynecologic oncologists, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists.