Gynecologic cancers are often referred to as silent diseases because many of the early symptoms for most of these cancers are familiar to females and can be easily missed. According to the American Cancer Society, more gynecologic cancers will be diagnosed among females in 2023 than colon cancer. Among the five most common gynecologic cancers, almost 115,000 females will receive a new diagnosis this year.
So, what are your chances of developing gynecologic cancer? These cancers only occur in the female reproductive system, so all females are at average risk for developing these diseases. Other factors that come into play are age, health habits, human papillomavirus (HPV), and having a family history of certain cancers.
Cervical cancer is one of the most known gynecologic cancers because one of the main causes of this disease is HPV. It’s also one of the most preventable because there is an HPV vaccine that has shown much success. Around 13,900 women will be diagnosed with cervical cancer this year, a number that has gone down over decades. It is mostly diagnosed in women between 35 and 44. However, women over 65 make up 20% of new cases.
Endometrial (uterine) Cancer
Today, more than 600,000 women in the U.S. either live with or once battled endometrial cancer. However, in 2023, endometrial cancer diagnoses are expected to outnumber the other gynecologic disease sites, with an estimated 66,200 new cases. This disease is uncommon in women under 45 years old, with 60 being the average age of diagnosis. Endometrial cancer is more commonly diagnosed in Black females than White females.
Ovarian cancer will touch around 19,700 women in 2023. Unfortunately, this cancer accounts for the most deaths than any other gynecologic cancer. Ovarian cancer is normally diagnosed in older women – around half of survivors are diagnosed at 63 years or older. This cancer is more common in White females than Black females. About 1 in 78 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their lifetime.
One of the rarest cancers of the female reproductive system is vaginal cancer. It makes up just 1% to 2% of gynecologic cancers. Like ovarian cancer, this vaginal cancer is usually diagnosed in older women, with the average age around 67.
Another rare gynecologic cancer is vulvar cancer. There is a 1 in 333 chance of being diagnosed with this disease, but it makes up about 6% of new gynecologic cases. In 2023, ACS estimates that just under 6,500 women will be diagnosed with vulvar cancer.
Common symptoms among gynecologic cancers
The signs and symptoms vary depending on the type of cancer, but can also be familiar to females. It is important to talk to your primary care physician or obstetrician/gynecologist (OBGYN) if you notice something unusual. Symptoms that are common among all five cancers are:
- A bump, mass or lump
- Abdominal pain
- Abnormal bleeding, spotting or discharge
- An open sore that has existed for some time
- Heavier than normal or irregular bleeding
- Itching that persists and does not get better
- Pain during sex
- Pelvic pain
- Urgent or frequent urinary symptoms, painful urination