Female Reproductive Cancers

Screening for Reproductive Cancers

More than 79,000 women are diagnosed with some form of reproductive cancer each year. Cancer occurs when the normal body cells grow out of control. Reproductive cancers begin in the organs related to human reproduction, which is defined as the biological process where a new human "offspring" is produced from two parents. The reproductive organs are located in the pelvic region (the lower belly area between the two hip bones) with the exception of the breasts. Common female reproductive cancers are considered to be uterine, cervical, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. Breast cancer can also be considered a type of reproductive cancer since babies are nursed by the female breasts. In the United States, uterine cancer is the most common type of female reproductive cancer, and ovarian cancer is the second most common type. However, ovarian cancer is the foremost cause of death from all reproductive malignancies.

Female Reproductive CancersSource: universitycancercenters.com

Overview of Female Reproductive Cancers

Reproductive cancers begin in the organs related to reproduction, which is the biological process where a new "offspring" is produced from two parents. The reproductive organs are located in the pelvic area, as well as the breasts. Common female reproductive cancers include uterine, cervical, ovarian, vaginal, vulvar, and breast cancer. Every year, approximately 79,000 women are diagnosed with some form of reproductive cancer. The yearly mortality rate, resulting from reproductive cancers, is estimated to be 36 percent (28,500 deaths each year).

Uterine Cancer

Uterine cancer develops first within the uterus, the organ where a baby develops when a woman is pregnant. This is the most common type of female reproductive cancer in the United States.

Risk Factors

  • African American descent.
  • Previous pelvic radiation therapy.
  • Obesity.
  • Estrogen replacement therapy.
  • Oral cancer treatments.
  • Infertility.
  • Diabetes.
  • Early menarche (first period).
  • Late onset of menopause.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge.
  • Pelvic pressure and/or pain.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer starts within the cervix, the lower portion of the uterus attached to the vagina.

Risk Factors

  • HPV infection.
  • Hispanic or African American descent.
  • Smoking.
  • Weakened immune system.
  • Family or personal history of cervical cancer.
  • Chlamydia.
  • Multiple pregnancies.
  • Oral contraceptive use.
  • Daughter of a woman who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge.

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer begins within one of the two ovaries, the organs that produce and store a woman's eggs. This is the second most common type of cancer, but it accounts for the greatest number of yearly deaths.

Risk Factors

  • Aging.
  • Obesity.
  • Hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
  • Family history of ovarian, breast, or colorectal cancers.
  • Personal history of previous breast cancer.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge.
  • Pelvic pressure and pain.
  • Belly and back pain.
  • Bloating.

Vaginal Cancer

Vaginal cancer originates within the vagina, the hollow canal leading from the uterus to the cervix.

Risk Factors

  • Advanced age.
  • Irritation of the vagina.
  • Cervical or pre-cervical cancers.
  • Daughter of a woman who took diethylstilbestrol (DES) while pregnant.
  • Smoking.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Vaginal bleeding.
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge.

Vulvar Cancer

Vulvar cancer develops in the vulva, the external genitalia located around the vaginal opening.

Risk Factors

  • Age.
  • HPV infection.
  • HIV infection.
  • Smoking.
  • Other reproductive cancers.
  • Chronic vulvar inflammation (from either poor hygiene or infection).
  • Melanoma or other atypical moles.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Pelvic pressure and/or pain.
  • Burning, itching, rash, and sores around vaginal opening.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is considered a type of reproductive cancer since offspring are nursed by the mammary glands, located within the breasts. Breast cancer begins within the fatty breast tissues.

Risk Factors

  • Early menarche (first period).
  • Late onset of menopause.
  • Older when having first child.
  • Never giving birth.
  • Not breastfeeding an infant.
  • Long-term HRT.
  • Age.
  • Family/personal history of breast cancer.
  • Previous breast radiation.
  • Obesity and/or lack of exercise.
  • Alcohol use.
  • Dense breasts.

Early Signs and Symptoms

  • Breast lump(s).
  • Fluid leaking from the nipple(s).
  • Skin changes around the nipple(s).

Screening and Diagnostic Tests for Female Reproductive Cancers

Often, there are no apparent signs and symptoms in the early stages of female reproductive cancer. Screening tests are designed to detect cancer when a person is still asymptomatic. Diagnostic tests are used to check for cancer in symptomatic patients. Screening and diagnostic tests include:

  • Mammogram: This is a specialized type of X-ray used to screen for breast cancer.
  • Pap Smear: This is a laboratory test of cervical scrapings obtained during a pelvic examination to screen for cervical cancer.
  • Laboratory blood tests: There are certain blood tests that may show signs of cancer.
  • Imaging tests: These include ultrasound, X-rays, CT scans, and MRI scans.
  • Biopsy: This procedure involves small tissue samples taken and analyzed to positively diagnose cancer.

Treatments for Female Reproductive Cancers

These common methods can be used in combination to successfully treat female cancers, and they include:

  • Chemotherapy (cancer killing medications).
  • Radiation (X-rays that eradicate cancer cells).
  • Hormone therapy (medications used to inhibit the production of hormones related to cancer cell growth).

Resources

  • Center for Disease Control and Prevention (2013). Breast cancer. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/breast/basic_info/risk_factors.htm
  • Office of Population Affairs (2013). Female reproductive cancer fact sheet. Retrieved from: http://www.hhs.gov/opa/reproductive-health/general-reproductive-health/female-reproductive-cancers/index.html

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