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The State of Gynecologic Cancers in the U.S.

We hear a lot about how breast cancer affects women, but there are many other "female cancers" that women need to be concerned about. Gynecologic cancers are those which affect women throughout their genitalia or reproductive tract:  these most commonly include cancers of the vulva, vagina, cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries.  The Gynecologic Cancer Foundation (www.wcn.org/gcf) has put together a wonderful summary of issues related to gynecologic cancers called "2003 State of the State of Gynecologic Cancers".

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 83,000 women are diagnosed each year in the US with a gynecologic cancer; 26,000 of them will die each year. To improve these odds for women, we need to improve awareness, diagnosis, treatments and even legislative initiatives to enhance research funding and clinical trials, to provide women with more options for early detection, and to enhance Pap smear and pelvic exam screening programs.

As with most cancers, we don't know the cause of most gynecologic cancers, although we do know that a sexually transmitted infection-human papilloma virus (HPV)-causes the majority of cervical cancers.  We know that genes have a huge influence of the development of cancer, as do other environmental influences, including aging.   We also know that diet, exercise and other lifestyle choices may play a significant role in the prevention of certain cancers.  Routine physical exams and other screening tests are also very helpful in the early detection and treatment of these cancers. 

Most women are not aware that there are gynecologists specially trained in the treatment of cancer:  these are called gynecologic oncologists.  Once a diagnosis is made, these specialists can use a combination of surgery, radiation, chemotherapy, radiation therapy and other modalities to treat-and often cure-patients affected with these cancers.  As with most cancers, the choice of therapy and the chances of an excellent outcome depend on the specific type and stage of the cancer.   While women with a family history of breast or gynecologic cancers are at increased risk for these diseases, all women should be considered at risk. 

Created: 11/5/2003  -  Donnica Moore, M.D.

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