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Gynecologic cancers are often best treated by a physician who is specially trained in this area. The gynecologic oncologists, who see patients at all three of Crozer Health's cancer centers, are experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of pre-malignant and malignant conditions of the female reproductive system, including the cervix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina, as well as gestational trophophobic disease, an unusual complication of pregnancy.
A gynecologic oncologist can perform surgery, administer chemotherapy or recommend radiation therapy—or combine therapies—without fragmenting care among many physicians. In most cases, women receive a referral to a gynecologic oncologist from their gynecologist or primary care physician.
Types of Gynecologic Cancer
Each year, more than 82,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cancers impacting the reproductive organs. These cancers fall into four major categories.
- Cervical cancer affects the tissues of the cervix, the narrow lower end of the uterus that leads from the uterus to the vagina.
- Symptoms: bleeding after intercourse; excessive discharge between menstrual periods.
- Risk factors: Smoking, multiple sexual partners, HIV, HPV wart virus infection, and early age of first intercourse.
- Ovarian cancer affects the ovaries, a pair of organs located in the pelvis that produce eggs and female hormones.
- Symptoms: Though ovarian cancer usually causes very few specific symptoms, they can include pressure or fullness in the pelvis, abdominal bloating or changes in bowel and bladder patterns.
- Risk factors: Include age, family history and few or no pregnancies.
- Uterine cancer is a disease in which malignant cells form in the tissues of the endometrium, the lining of the uterus.
- Symptoms: Any bleeding after menopause or irregular vaginal bleeding before menopause.
- Risk factors: Obesity, hypertension, diabetes, use of hormones and late menopause. Women who have not been pregnant have a slightly higher risk.
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancers
- Vaginal and vulvar cancers affect the vagina, or birth canal, and the vulva, the outer part of the vagina.
- Symptoms: Itching, bleeding or a mass in the vulva area.
- Risk factors: Advanced age or other pre-malignant conditions.
Because the symptoms of most common gynecologic cancers are often minimal and may sometimes be mistaken for another condition, women of all ages are advised to schedule a regular gynecologic exam and Pap test. The Pap test is the preferred method for detecting gynecologic cancers of the cervix or vagina. How often a woman should receive a Pap test varies according to a woman’s age and sexual history and as well as other risk factors. Consult your physician about how often to schedule these exams.
Pay attention to any changes or problems that occur throughout your monthly cycle and carefully document these occurrences for a discussion with your physician. Immediately report any bleeding after menopause to your physician. In addition, report any painful cramps, appetite changes and vaginal discharge. These are usually easily explained and treated, but they can be early warning signs of gynecologic cancers.
Crozer Health offers an array of advanced techniques and technologies for early cancer detection.
Like all malignancies, gynecologic cancers are treated in three ways: surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy. Crozer Health offers the latest techniques and technologies for each of these types of treatments.
Surgical oncology can be used to remove a tumor or the entire affected organ. Our surgeons are board-certified and highly experienced in high-tech cancer treatment techniques.
Radiation oncology is the use of X-rays or other types of radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Radiation therapy may use external radiation (using a machine outside the body) or internal radiation, which involves putting radioisotopes (materials that produce radiation) through thin plastic tubes into the area where cancer cells are found, a process called brachytherapy. In addition, the Crozer Regional Cancer Center offers Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT), a form of external radiation in which a high dose of radiation is delivered directly to the tumor while minimizing the effects on surrounding organs and tissue.
Medical oncology, including chemotherapy, is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy may be taken by mouth or injected into the body. Both methods are called systemic treatment because drugs enter the bloodstream, travel through the body, and kill cancer cells throughout the body. Certain drugs may be combined to enhance their effects.
Each patient’s treatment plan is individually tailored, based on the type of cancer, the tumor size, the stage of the cancer, the patient’s age, and other factors. The latest research has shown that in some instances, a combination of treatments has resulted in higher cure rates and fewer side effects for the patient.
The Crozer Health's Regional Cancer Centers offer a range of comprehensive services for their patients, some of which are not available at other hospitals. Because a cancer diagnosis brings changes and challenges to everyday life, Crozer Healthoffers special support groups for women undergoing treatment for gynecologic cancers.