September is set aside to raise awareness of gynecological cancers. GYN cancers affect women’s reproductive organs including the cervix, endometrium, uterus, fallopian tubes, vagina, vulva, and ovaries.
In 2009 there will be an estimated 80,720 new cases of GYN cancers and 28,120 deaths.
Women with Lynch syndrome (also known as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer or HNPCC) have a high lifetime risk of endometrial cancer, reaching 71 percent by the age of 70. This is much higher than the general population whose risk is less than 2 percent.
Lynch syndrome women also have a 10 to 12 percent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer, again larger than the other women with a risk is about 1.5 percent.
Women who have been identified as carrying one of the Lynch syndrome genes — MLH1, MSH2, MSH6, or PMS2 — should plan annual screening for both ovarian and endometrial cancer beginning about age 30 to 35. A pelvic-rectal examination, transvaginal ultrasound, CA-125 blood test, and endometrial biopsy should be part of that exam.
On the other hand, women who are diagnosed with endometrial cancer before menopause or the age of 50 are at high risk for Lynch syndrome and colorectal cancer. They should consider genetic counseling and testing. Tumor testing may identify older women who need further genetic testing, as well.
Symptoms of endometrial cancer that should prompt a visit to a gynecologist and endometrial biopsy include:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding: heavier than usual menstrual periods, bleeding between periods, or prolonged periods.
- Vaginal bleeding after menopause.
Symptoms of ovarian cancer can be subtle, but according to the Ovarian Cancer National Alliance, they are more likely to occur in women with ovarian cancer than other women. They exist even in early stages. When symptoms are persistent and are a change from a woman’s normal patterns, they should be investigated. Symptoms include:
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)
Cervical cancer is not part of the Lynch syndrome. However, all women should schedule regular pap smears to detect changes in cells that may lead to cervical cancer. Such screening can prevent cervical cancer. However, pap smears do not detect or prevent ovarian or endometrial cancer.