Gynecological cancer risk & prevention
Published 12:09 am Wednesday, September 21, 2022
Each year, about 110,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer. These malignancies originate in the female reproductive organs, most commonly the cervix, endometrium or ovaries. Some gynecological cancers are preventable.
Cervical cancer is caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), which is passed from person to person during intercourse. Women between the ages of 30 and 35 are typically affected, but younger and older women are at risk, too. Cervical cancer can be eradicated with routine use of the HPV vaccine and cervical cancer screenings. It is within our grasp to make cervical cancer, like smallpox, a disease of the past.
Vaccinating children before they become sexually active is ideal for preventing cervical pre-cancer and cancer. Routine HPV vaccination is recommended at age 11 or 12 for both males and females, and can be given between the ages of 9 and 26. There are certain circumstances where women older than 26 should also consider getting the vaccine. Regular Pap and HPV testing remain important in preventing cervical cancer. Many women may not experience any symptoms. The symptoms of cervical cancer often overlap with common (benign) gynecologic issues. They may include abnormal bleeding between menstrual cycles, abdominal and/or pelvic pain, bleeding after sex and excessive discharge.
Endometrial cancer, the most common gynecological cancer in the U.S., affects the lining of the uterus. The majority of patients are diagnosed with endometrial cancer after the age of 50. Many cases are related to obesity and lack of physical activity. A healthy diet and adding 30 minutes of exercise every day can cut the rates of endometrial cancer significantly and decrease the rates of postmenopausal breast cancer, colon cancer and other cancer types. Daily habits that can reduce the risk of endometrial cancer include exercising regularly, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Postmenopausal bleeding is the most common symptom of endometrial cancer and should be promptly evaluated by a gynecologist.
Ovarian cancer starts on the surface of the ovaries in women. In the U.S., it is the eighth most common cancer and the fifth leading cause of cancer death. Up to 20% of ovarian cancer cases may be hereditary. By answering a few questions about personal and family history, women at high risk and carrying mutations that vastly increase the risk of ovarian cancer can be identified. Once those individuals are identified, ovarian cancer can be prevented with risk-reducing surgeries and medications. The most common genetic mutation for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer syndrome is the BReast CAncer gene (BRCA) and can be detected by a blood or saliva sample. Pelvic and abdominal pain, bloating, and urgency or frequency to urinate are all symptoms of ovarian cancer and may warrant further evaluation if persistent. Unfortunately, however, there is no approved laboratory or imaging screening test for ovarian cancer.
Dr. John McCrossen received his medical degree from Louisiana State University School of Medicine and completed his residency training in Obstetrics and Gynecology with Ochsner Foundation Hospital in 2004. He is board-certified and a fellow of the American College of Obstetrics & Gynecologists. Dr. McCrossen was previously in private practice and joined Ochsner in 2014. Appointments are available in Kenner, LaPlace and Destrehan. Dr. McCrossen specializes in Robotics and minimally invasive treatments for abnormal bleeding and fibroids and sees high and low risk obstetrical patients. To schedule an appointment with Dr. McCrossen at Ochsner Health Center – River Parishes, 502 Rue de Santé, LaPlace, please call 985-652-3500 or schedule online at Ochsner.org.