What are the signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancer?

By troy Moore on September 29th, 2020

There are five main types of gynecologic cancer: ovarian, uterine (endometrial), cervical, vaginal and vulvar. These cancers start in a woman’s reproductive organs and often have few or no symptoms during early stages of disease. To recognize Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month this September, we summarize the signs and symptoms of each gynecologic cancer and what action you should take if you or someone you care about is experiencing symptoms that are consistent with these cancers.

Symptoms of gynecologic cancer can be nonspecific and can overlap between the specific types of cancer. Additionally, symptoms of more advanced stages of disease can be similar to other, less harmful conditions. Some of the symptoms associated with each gynecologic cancer are listed below:

Ovarian cancer

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Abdominal bloating, swelling or pain
  • Back pain
  • Pelvic pain 
  • Feeling full soon after eating 
  • Unexplained weight loss 
  • Frequent urination
  • Constipation

Uterine (endometrial) cancer

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pelvic pain or pressure

Cervical cancer

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • Pelvic pain 
  • Pain during intercourse

Vaginal cancer

  • Unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge
  • A lump or mass in the vagina
  • Frequent or painful urination 
  • Constipation 
  • Pelvic pain

Vulvar cancer

  • Itching or burning of the vulva 
  • Vulvar pain or tenderness 
  • A lump, lesion or other skin change on the vulva 
  • Bleeding not associated with menstruation

If you or someone you care about is experiencing persistent, worrisome symptoms, it is important to discuss your concerns with a doctor. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) have created a helpful gynecologic cancer symptom diary for women to keep a record of any symptoms they would like to share with their physician.

Importantly, some gynecologic cancers, including ovarian, uterine, cervical and vulvar cancers, can be hereditary, or can be passed on from an affected parent to their child. And because early-stage symptoms may not be present with these cancers, patients are often diagnosed at later stages of the disease when the cancer is more difficult to successfully treat. For example, ovarian cancer survival rates are high when the cancer is treated at an early stage, yet only 20% of cases are diagnosed this early in disease development.1 Hereditary cancer screening can play an important role in establishing adverse mutations (changes) in a patient’s genes that are associated with an increased risk of cancer development, allowing physicians to more effectively monitor and potentially detect specific cancers at an earlier and more treatable stage of disease. The ExpedioTM Hereditary Cancer Screening test developed by Kailos Genetics screens for adverse mutations in 33 genes associated with increased cancer risk, including genes that increase the risk of gynecologic cancers. Click here to learn more about ExpedioTM or contact us with any questions you have regarding our genetic screenings.

1 National Cervical Cancer Coalition. Gynecologic cancers. https://www.nccc-online.org/hpvcervical-cancer/gynecological-cancers/