Wake-Up Call about Gynecologic Cancers

About 91,730 women will be diagnosed with gynecological cancer this year and about 30,000 of them will die from the disease, according to estimates by the American Cancer Society.

However, early detection can save one’s life, so it’s imperative for every women to know what the beginning signs of gynecological cancer are.

I learned this from a documentary movie I saw last week called No Evidence of Disease. The film tells the story of six gynecologic oncology surgeons who formed a rock band—named N.E.D—to use music to build awareness about the five main gynecological cancers: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar.  Ovarian cancer is the most lethal, accounting for half the deaths.

Despite the fact that every six minutes an American girl or woman learns that she has gynecological cancer, there’s been very little publicity about the disease. While many celebrities have shared their battles with breast cancer and brought enormous attention—and funding—to this disease, no famous person has emerged as the voice for patients with cancers involving women’s genitalia.  Television is plastered with ads for Viagra and Cialis, but we appear to be reluctant to have any public discussion about maladies involving female sexual organs.

Image via Medicine World

Image via Medicine World

This is a problem because, according to research conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most women don’t know the signs of gynecological cancers and are especially unaware of symptoms unrelated to their reproductive organs, such as feeling bloated or having back or abdominal pain.

There are eight symptoms that every woman should know could possibly (but not necessarily) be early indications of gynecological cancer:

  • Vaginal itching or burning

  • Back or abdominal pain

  • Being tired all the time

  • Having to pass urine very badly or more often than usual

  • Feeling bloated

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge

  • Pelvic pain or pressure

  • Changes in vulva color or skin, such as rash, sores, or warts.

The CDC emphasizes the importance of women knowing what is normal for them so that they can determine whether these are benign common ailments or red flags signaling the need to see a gynecologist. Early detection is critical because successful treatment occurs most often when the cancers are caught in their early stages.

Every women should have an annual Pap smear to test for cervical cancer and an annual pelvic examination to uncover any other possible abnormalities.

For more information and educational materials about gynecological cancers, go to the CDC website or the website of the Foundation for Women’s Cancer.

About the Author

Susan Weiss Grosshas spent over 40 years strengthening social justice groups so that their people and programs succeed. Her special love is coaching women to realize their full leadership potential. Among the groups she’s assisted are the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children’s Defense Fund, the National Partnership for Women and Families, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Innocence Project, and Human Rights Watch. Susan has written numerous publications on leading and managing organizations, includingSeven Turning Points: Leading through Pivotal Transitions in Organizational Life. (For more information on Susan and her book, go toLinkedIn,Management Assistance, andAmazon.)