In the United States, doctors diagnose women with some type of gynecological cancer every six minutes, which adds up to more than 83,000 new cases each year and over 27,000 women a year lose the battle. Gynecological cancers include uterine cancer (endometrial cancer), ovarian cancer, peritoneal cancer, fallopian tube cancer, cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and vulvar cancer.
While the risk increases with age, women over 40 face a higher risk of diagnosis, but gynecological cancers affect all women, regardless of race, age, ethnicity, or social status. Those who live in poverty experience greater risks for death due to limited access to medical care. Ovarian cancer causes the highest death rates, but uterine cancer is the most common. The ethnic risk of developing gynecological cancer ranks fairly even for Caucasians, Hispanics, and African-Americans, while there appears to be a lower risk for Native Americans or Asians.
The Human Papillomavirus (HPV,) causes many forms of gynecological cancer, and with more than a 100 different types of HPV that are sexually transmitted diseases, and about 50 percent of the population contracting the virus at some point in their lives. Since the body’s immune system clears the virus out in about 90 percent of the cases, it usually goes unnoticed.
Although vaccines now exist to prevent the types of HPV that most often cause this type of cancer, in order to be completely effective, a woman must receive the vaccine she is 26-years-old, according to the Centers for Disease Control(CDC.)
Though screening tests stem the tide of cervical cancers, other types of gynecological cancers are not included. Each year, a woman has a yearly screening test including a pap test for cervical cancer, but there are no routine screenings for other gynecological cancers. Therefore, it's vitally important that women to pay attention to what is going on in their body and recognize the signs and symptoms of the other forms of gynecological cancer. This includes:
- Abnormal bleeding
- Abdominal or back pain
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Itching or burning of the vulva
- Changes in restroom habits
- Changes in vulva such as warts, sores or a rash
Since many of these symptoms directly link to several sexually transmitted diseases, women experiencing any of them should tell her doctor immediately.
For those women at a greater risk of developing gynecological cancer, genetic testing looks for specific genes associated with the development of cancer, but remember that just because a person has these genes; it doesn't mean they will develop cancer. It just lets the doctor know to look carefully for signs or symptoms.
Like many forms of cancer, early prevention and treatment improve the already good survival rates for gynecological cancer. But those living in poverty do not have the medical access or quality of treatment to live up to the success rates of those with financial stability, and due to the financial hardships medical care poses, many tend to ignore the warning signs.
However, many programs and low to no-cost clinics exist throughout the United States to help these poverty stricken women, and even Planned Parenthood offers screening and prevention programs on a sliding scale based on the person’s income. Another option is the CDC, who runs screening and prevention programs in every state, including the District of Columbia, the 5 U.S territories, and 12 Native American tribes ranging from free to low-cost. Also, check out community agencies and charities who may offer programs to help.
Survival requires prevention, early detection, and treatment. If every woman in America received the screening and treatment, we could significantly reduce the number of deaths associated with gynecological cancers.