Who Is At Risk For Gynecologic Cancers?
While all women are at risk for gynecologic cancer, some factors can increase your risk. By understanding the risk factors for each of these types of cancers, you take an important step toward maintaining your gynecologic health.
You can reduce your risk of getting gynecologic cancer by adopting a healthy lifestyle, paying attention to how your body looks and feels, and having regular exams and recommended screening tests.
Cancer of the cervix is found most often in women older than 40, but it can occur at any age. Specific risk factors for cervical cancer include:
• A current or past HPV infection
• Early age of first intercourse
• A compromised immune system, as with HIV
• A current or past sexually transmitted disease (STD).
Endometrial and Uterine Cancer
Endometrial and uterine cancer is rare in women younger than 40 years old. It most often occurs in women between the ages of 60 and 75 years. You are at increased risk for these types of cancers if you:
• Are obese
• Do not ovulate regularly and often miss periods
• Have never given birth
An annual gynecologic exam, including a PAP test, reduces your risk of cervical cancer because it often results in detection of precancerous cells.
• Have late menopause
• Have polycystic ovary syndrome
• Have endometrial hyperplasia
• Have had cancer of the ovary, breast, or colon
• Have taken tamoxifen to treat breast cancer
• Have a close family member who has or has had endometrial cancer
• Have high blood pressure
• Have diabetes
• Have taken estrogen without progesterone.
The key to finding endometrial cancer early is being alert to symptoms such as abnormal bleeding, spotting, and new discharge from your vagina.
Fallopian Tube Cancer
Primary fallopian tube cancer is the most rare of all gynecologic cancers. This type of cancer occurs most often in women between 60 and 64 years of age; however, it can continue to occur in women up to their mid-80s. Risk factors for this type of cancer are not very well understood. Though fallopian tube cancer occurs more often among Caucasian women than among Black women.
The most common symptoms of fallopian tube cancer are unexplained vaginal bleeding, vaginal discharge, and pelvic pain.
One of the most important risk factors for ovarian cancer is family history. Be sure and let your doctor know if you have a mother, sister, or maternal aunt who has been diagnosed with this type of cancer.
Women of any age can have cancer of the ovary, but the risk increases with age. Women who have had several children are less likely to get ovarian cancer, as are women who have used or are now using oral contraceptives.
Specific risk factors include:
• Few or no children
• Children born later in life
• Use of fertility drugs for a long time
• Other family members with ovarian cancer.
Vaginal and Vulvar Cancer
Women of any age can have cancer of the vulva or vagina; however, invasive cancers of this area most often occur in women older than 60 years of age. Some types of vulvar and vaginal cancer are linked to the human papillomavirus (HPV).
One of the best ways to find vulvar and vaginal cancer early is by doing periodic self-exams of these areas. Report any changes in skin tone or color to your doctor.
Risk factors for vulvar cancer include:
• Advanced age
• Chronic irritation of the vulva
• Taking steroids or other drugs that weaken your immune system.
You may be at risk for vaginal cancer if you were born between 1938 and 1971 and your mother took DES when she was pregnant with you. DES was prescribed during this time to help prevent miscarriages.