Gynecologic cancers may not be on your radar. But if you’re a woman, they should be. That’s true even if you’re relatively young and healthy.
Each year, more than 80,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, such as endometrial (also known as uterine cancer), ovarian cancer or cervical cancer. Most of these cancers occur in women after menopause. But gynecologic cancers can strike women before menopause, too.
And, here’s another problem: the signs of gynecologic cancers can be vague and similar to those of other conditions.
So, no matter how young or old you are, it’s important to know what to look for. That way, if these symptoms do appear, you can alert your doctor right away. After all, recognizing the symptoms may increase your odds of finding cancer early, when it’s most treatable.
Below are 10 gynecologic cancer symptoms that every woman should be on the lookout for.
1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding. More than 90% of women diagnosed with endometrial cancer experience irregular bleeding. If you have already undergone menopause, any bleeding — spotting included — should be evaluated. Haven’t gone through menopause yet? See your doctor if you experience bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding or bleeding during sex.
2. Unexplained weight loss. If you’re overweight or obese, losing weight by exercising and making healthier food choices can actually help curb your cancer risks. But if you suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits, talk to your doctor.
3. Vaginal discharge colored with blood. Bloody, dark or smelly discharge is usually a sign of infection. But sometimes, it’s a warning sign of cervical or endometrial cancer.
4. Constant fatigue. A busy week can wear anyone out. But in most cases, a little rest should cure your fatigue. If fatigue is interfering with your work or leisure activities, stop blaming your hectic life and see your doctor.
5. Swollen leg. Does one of your legs look or feel swollen for no apparent reason? This may be a warning sign of cervical cancer. Typically, though, a swollen leg isn’t a sign of cancer unless you also have pain, discharge or other cervical cancer symptoms.
6. Loss of appetite or feeling full all the time. Never hungry anymore? Or constantly feeling full? These appetite changes may be symptoms of ovarian cancer.
7. Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area. Ongoing abdominal pain or discomfort — including gas, indigestion, pressure, bloating and cramps — can signal ovarian cancer. And, constant pelvic pain or pressure can be a sign of endometrial cancer.
8. A bloated belly. It’s common to feel bloated after eating or drinking a lot, especially during your menstrual cycle. But if you feel bloated for more than two weeks or after your period ends, this could be a sign of ovarian cancer.
9. Constantly needing bathroom breaks. Suddenly need to use the bathroom all the time or feel constant pressure on your bladder? Unless you’ve started drinking more liquids or you’re pregnant, this may be a sign of cancer. Take note if you also feel full, have abdominal pain and experience bloating.
10. Persistent indigestion or nausea. Occasionally, persistent indigestion or nausea can signal gynecologic cancers. Play it safe, and see your doctor if you feel queasy more often than usual.
Remember, having one or more of these symptoms doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if they last two weeks or longer, see your doctor to get yourself checked out. After all, it’s better to be safe than sorry.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.