Female Cancer Screening
One of the most important aspects of the annual wellness exam with your gynecologist is the screening for cancers of the female reproductive tract. Many of these diseases can be cured if detected early. You should notify your doctor if you have abdominal pain, changes in your menstrual cycles, or bleeding after menopause.
Cervical cancer affects 12,000 women per year in the US, resulting in 4,000 deaths per year. Cervical cancer is the only cancer that is known to be caused by a virus, HPV. Cervical cancer and precancerous cells can be detected on a Pap smear. Therefore, women aged 21-65 should get Pap smears and HPV screening at regular intervals. In its early stages, there are no symptoms of cervical cancer. As it advances, it can be associated with irregular vaginal bleeding, bleeding after sex, or a foul vaginal discharge.
Uterine, or endometrial cancer, is the most common female reproductive cancer, affecting 50,000 women per year with about 8,000 deaths per year. While the cause of uterine cancer is unknown, it is linked to an overabundance of estrogen which causes the lining of the uterus to thicken abnormally. Risk factors include obesity, high-fat diets, and polycystic ovarian syndrome. Uterine cancer often causes vaginal bleeding after menopause or bleeding throughout the menstrual cycle. While there is no screening test for this type of cancer, an endometrial biopsy can be done when suspicious symptoms arise.
Ovarian cancer is the least common female cancer, affecting 22,000 women per year, but is responsible for the most cancer deaths, about 15,000 per year. It usually occurs in women over 50. Symptoms such as nausea, bloating, and abdominal pain, often arise only once the cancer is advanced. The best screening test for ovarian cancer is the annual pelvic exam. Blood tests, such as CA-125, and vaginal ultrasounds have not been proven to decrease ovarian cancer deaths.