Gynecologic Oncologists specialize in the treatment of cancers of the female reproductive organs While you may not pay them a visit on a routine basis, there are certain things you should know about certain common cancers. Here are five things that your Gynecologic Oncologist wants you to know.
by The Iowa Clinic on Friday, April 28, 2023
1. The Vague Signs of Ovarian Cancer
Routine cancer screenings are often regarded as very important for prevention, but when it comes to ovarian cancer — there are no screenings available. In the United States, ovarian cancer is considered the deadliest gynecologic cancer. This is because the symptoms are vague and ovarian cancer is not typically diagnosed until it has already spread outside of the ovary.
Gynecologic Oncologist Dr. Kevin Kremer advises to look out for the following unconventional symptoms that may hint at something more serious:
- Abdominal Pain
- Irregular Gastrointestinal Symptoms
- Getting Full Easily
- Belly Bloating
If you experience any of these symptoms and they do not resolve with treatment and time, it could be a sign of ovarian cancer. This is particularly true for individuals that have already gone through menopause or have a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. Advocating for yourself is important to ensure something isn’t being missed. Oftentimes, diagnosis requires a CT scan before anything is found.
2. Post-Menopausal Vaginal Bleeding Is Not Normal
As you pass through menopause, you are probably looking forward to closing the chapter of monthly periods and painful cramps. Spotting or bleeding after menopause may seem normal — but it is far from it. Whether it’s heavy flow or just a bit of spotting, it can be a sign of something more serious and needs to be addressed by your gynecologist right away. In all cases, signs of post-menopausal bleeding are considered a risk factor for certain cancers until proven otherwise.
“Cancer or precancerous lesions are what we most worry about because it can spread,” Dr. Kremer said. “You can have polyps that are benign, but unless we are looking for it to find the cause, we don’t know.”
3. Cervical Cancer Is Preventable
With what we know now about cervical cancer, it is preventable in many cases — even more so with routine pelvic exams. However, these symptoms aren’t normal:
- Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding — such as bleeding in between periods
- Bleeding after intercourse
- Vaginal odor
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
Although this is a highly preventable cancer, reoccurring infections with the human papillomavirus — better known as HPV — plays a large role in your risk of developing cervical cancer. This makes getting vaccinated against the HPV virus a vital part in the prevention of cervical cancer.
If you didn’t already need a reason to quit smoking — here is another one. Smoking contributes to persistent HPV infection due to the weakening of the immune system, which would typically help fight the HPV infection, and can eventually lead to precancerous and cancerous areas of the cervix.
4. Vulvar Cancer Needs Attention
As with several cancers, the risk of vulvar cancer increases as you get older — which is the cancer of the female external genitalia. The most common symptoms include:
- Pain or sores on the vulva or labia.
Vulvar cancer may not cause noticeable early symptoms, but as soon as you notice one — see your healthcare provider immediately.
5. Genetic Counseling Is Prevention
Genetic testing is the process of looking for specific mutated genes in our DNA that could increase the risk for developing hereditary cancer. After a cancer diagnosis is determined, Theresa Hohertz, ARNP, guides patients through a thorough family history, reviews genetic mutations, and the genes being tested. Genetic testing yields many benefits, including:
- Assessing the risk for developing another form of cancer.
- Helps to guide treatment and find out what drives the cancer.
- Aids in identifying other family members that may be at an increased risk of developing cancer in their lives.
“Genetic testing should be done on anyone who has a family history of cancer,” Theresa said. “It helps us to know if each person is at an elevated risk of developing cancer so we can institute measures to help prevent cancer diagnosis in the first place.”
Our team of gynecologic oncologists are passionate in providing you with the best treatment possible. To learn more about our department, visit our website or call 515.875.9290 to schedule.