Pelvic Pain Isn’t the Only Sign of Gynecologic Cancer
Focused on Health - January 2010
By Lam Le
Think about all of the lectures your parents gave you as a child about ways to protect yourself. Lectures like “stop, drop and roll,” “look both ways before crossing the street,” and “never, ever play with fire.” One thing they may have overlooked, though, is teaching their daughters about the warning signs of gynecologic cancers.
How can knowing the signs of gynecologic cancer possibly rate up there with those other important parental lessons? Because getting to your doctor in time to find gynecologic cancer at its earliest stages is the best way to beat the disease.
More than 80,000 women in the United States will get a gynecologic cancer this year. In general, gynecologic cancers occur more frequently in women after menopause, although they can occur in younger women. While all women should be aware of these symptoms, women in their 40s and older should pay particular attention to their bodies. It's crucial to know what symptoms to look for, says the American Cancer Society. Recognizing the signs also can save busy women time and anxiety.
The first thing you’re probably wondering is what are gynecologic cancers? They are cancers of the uterus, cervix, ovary, vulva and vagina. The most common are endometrial (also called uterine), ovarian and cervical cancers. M. D. Anderson’s top 10 warning signs are listed below. If you have more than one of these signs for two weeks or longer, it’s time to visit your doctor.
Remember! Not all of these symptoms mean you have cancer, so don’t panic. Just get yourself checked.
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding
Irregular bleeding happens in more than 90% of women who get endometrial cancer. For post-menopausal women, any bleeding — including spotting — should be evaluated by a gynecologist. For pre-menopausal women, bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding, or bleeding during intercourse should be evaluated.
- Unexplained weight loss
Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer. If you have lost weight by exercising and eating healthy, keep up the good work! But, if you have not changed your diet or exercise habits and lose over 10 pounds, this could be a sign of cancer.
- Being tired all the time
Most women get run-down from juggling a busy week at work, running errands and taking care of their families. But, ongoing fatigue that does not get better with rest can be a sign of a bigger problem. If you are constantly tired for more than two weeks, especially if it limits your daily activities, don’t assume that your busy life is the only cause. Get a second opinion from your doctor.
- Vaginal discharge colored with blood
Bloody, dark, or smelly discharge is most likely a sign of infection. But, it may be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer too. Contact your doctor if you notice unusual discharge.
- Swollen leg
If one of your legs looks or feels swollen for no apparent reason, it’s worth asking your doctor about. A swollen leg can be a sign of advanced cervical cancer. However, it would be unusual to have this symptom without pain, discharge or other signs of cervical cancer.
- Constantly needing bathroom breaks
Beware if you suddenly have to go to the bathroom all the time or need to take urgent or frequent bathroom breaks due to pressure on your bladder. This is typically a symptom of cancer if you also feel full, have abdominal pain, and experience bloating.
- Feeling full all the time
Difficulty eating or always feeling full is another common symptom linked to ovarian cancer. Be aware of any changes in your eating habits that continue for more than two weeks.
- Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area
Constant pelvic or abdominal pain can be a sign that something isn’t quite right. This may be a warning sign for cancer. Any unusual pain that lasts for more than two weeks should be looked at by your doctor.
- A bloated belly
Most women normally feel bloated after heavy eating or drinking, and especially during their menstrual cycle. It’s time to see your gynecologist when that bloated feeling doesn’t go away after two weeks or when your period is over. This belly bloat could be from eating or drinking too much but also could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
- Persistent indigestion or nausea
While other conditions are usually the cause, persistent indigestion or nausea also can be a warning sign of gynecologic cancers. If you find yourself feeling queasy more than usual, play it safe and call your doctor.
Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor about any unusual changes you notice in your body. Having one or more of these symptoms does not mean you have cancer. It does mean that you should get yourself checked. Early cancer detection is your best chance for a cure.