Gynecological cancer affects the reproductive organs, including the cervix, uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, vagina and vulva.
Our Approach to Gynecological Cancer
Inspira’s skilled gynecologic oncologists are specially trained to diagnose and treat a range of gynecological cancers including:
- Cervical cancer
- Endometrial and uterine cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Vaginal cancer
- Vulvar cancer
Additionally, all Inspira primary care providers — including obstetricians/gynecologists, certified nurse-midwives, and nurse practitioners — care for those who have certain non-cancerous conditions or who are at high risk for developing gynecological cancer.
Types of Gynecological Cancer
Cervical cancer occurs when cancerous cells grow and multiply in the lining of the cervix, which is the lower part of the uterus that connects to the vagina. One of the most common causes of this type of cancer is the human papillomavirus, or HPV. If detected early, cervical cancer can be successfully treated.
The best way to prevent and/or detect cervical cancer is to have your gynecologist routinely screen for abnormalities by conducting a Pap test. Those who are vaccinated against HPV prior to becoming sexually active will have a lower risk of cervical cancer.
Understanding the early signs and symptoms will also help ensure effective treatment. Although those with early cervical cancers and precancers often don’t have symptoms, it’s important to understand the most common ones, which include:
- Irregular bleeding, such as spotting between or following periods
- Menstrual bleeding that is longer or heavier than normal
- Persistent pelvic or back pain
- Vaginal discharge
- Pain during intercourse
Endometrial and Uterine Cancer
Endometrial cancer starts in the lining of the uterus (endometrium). You may hear this type of cancer referred to as uterine cancer, though they are not quite the same thing: Endometrial cancer develops in the uterine lining, whereas uterine cancer (sarcoma) forms in the uterine muscle.
If you experience the symptoms below, your doctor may wish to conduct an endometrial or uterine biopsy to determine whether cancerous cells are present:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Painful urination
- An enlarged uterus, which your physician can detect during an exam
- Pain during intercourse
- Unexplained weight loss
Ovarian cancer typically begins in the ovaries, but recent research suggests it can actually develop in other reproductive organs such as the fallopian tubes. The ovaries, which produce eggs (ova) for reproduction, are composed of three kinds of cells, each of which can grow into a different type of tumor:
- Epithelial tumors, which form in the cells covering the surface of the ovary, are the most common form of ovarian tumors.
- Germ cell tumors, which begin in the cells that produce eggs.
- Stromal tumors, which start from structural tissue cells that comprise the ovary and hold it together. These cells also produce the hormones progesterone and estrogen.
Although most of them are considered benign, ovarian cysts—fluid-filled lumps found in the ovaries—occur naturally as part of the ovulation process and can be confused with a tumor. Your doctor will monitor any cysts you may develop and treat them accordingly.
Most symptoms of ovarian cancer will not be present until the cancer has spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include:
- Pelvic, back or abdominal pain
- Loss of appetite or an inability to feel full after eating
- Urgent need to urinate
- Pain during intercourse
If your doctor suspects you may have ovarian cancer, they will recommend a more advanced screening. If surgery is needed, Inspira offers experience in minimally invasive procedures including robotic surgeries like robotic oophorectomy (removal of one or both ovaries).
Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina. Squamous cell carcinoma, the most prevalent type of vaginal cancer, develops in the lining of the vagina. Adenocarcinoma, which accounts for one in 10 cases of vaginal cancer, can occur both in older and younger people. Clear cell adenocarcinoma is more common in the young who were exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero.
When vaginal cancer is forming and is only in the cells lining the vagina, it may not cause discernible symptoms. Invasive vaginal cancer tends to be larger and spreads easily into nearby tissues and deeper into the wall of the vagina. In addition to symptoms of other gynecological cancers such as pelvic pain, trouble urinating and abnormal bleeding, you may also be able to feel a mass or lump in the vagina.
Vulvar cancer starts in the vulva, the outer part of the genitals. Most cancers of the vulva are squamous cell carcinomas. This type of cancer forms in the squamous cells, the main type of skin cells. Adenocarcinomas, melanomas, sarcomas and basal cell carcinoma can all affect and/or spread to the vulva.
Depending on which type of vulvar cancer you have, you will likely experience a range of different symptoms—or no symptoms at all. Common symptoms include, but are not limited to:
- A lump or small bump of varying color, including white, pink or red
- Thickening of the skin of the vulva
- Pain, burning or itching
- An open sore
Gynecological Cancer Treatment at Inspira
Depending on the type and stage of your gynecological cancer, your oncologist may recommend using medications to treat it. Chemotherapy, immunotherapy and hormone therapy are all common medication-based treatments.
Surgery is often used to treat cancerous lumps and tissue and can be very effective in removing your cancer. Whenever possible, your Inspira physician will operate using minimally invasive surgery techniques to reduce any pain or discomfort. This may include robotic assisted surgery for endometrial, cervical and ovarian cancer.