- Ovarian cancer
- Cancer of the Uterus (also called endometrial cancer)
- Cancer of the cervix
The ovaries are a pair of female reproductive organs. They are located in the pelvis, one of each side of the uterus. Each ovary is about the size and shape of an almond. The ovaries have two functions: they produce eggs and female hormones.
Each month during the menstrual cycle an egg is released from one ovary. The egg travels from the ovary through a fallopian tube to the uterus.
The ovaries are the main source of female hormones (estrogen and progesterone). These hormones control the development of female body characteristics such as breasts, body shape, and body hair. They also regulate the menstrual cycle and pregnancy.
There are several types of ovarian cancer. Most ovarian cancers are epithelial carcinomas, which begin in the lining of the ovary.
Ovarian cancer is hard to find early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages and in many cases the cancer has spread by the time it is found. Symptoms may include a swollen or bloated feeling or general discomfort in the lower abdomen. These symptoms may be vague and may be caused by other conditions.
Ovarian cancer can be diagnosed with ultrasonography, CT or CAT scans, a lower GI series or barium enema, an intravenous pyelogram (IVP) (an x-ray of the kidneys and ureters taken after the injection of a dye, or through a biopsy.
A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer is present.
Treatment for ovarian cancer depends on a number of factors, including the stage of the disease, the woman’s age and general health. Treatment may include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation or a combination of these.
As in many other cancers ovarian cancer is best treated when it is discovered early. Women who have regular pelvic examinations increase the chance that, if ovarian cancer occurs, it will be found before the disease causes symptoms.
The uterus (also called the womb) is a hollow, pear-shaped organ located in a woman’s lower abdomen between the bladder and the rectum. The narrow, lower portion of the uterus is the cervix. The broader, upper part is the corpus. The corpus is made up of two layers of tissue.
In women of childbearing age, the inner layer of the uterus (endometrium) goes through a series of monthly changes know as the menstrual cycle. Each month, endometrial tissue grows and thickens in preparation to receive a fertilized egg. Menstruation occurs when this tissue is not used and passes out through the vagina. The outer layer of the corpus (myometrium) is a muscle that expands during pregnancy to hold the growing fetus.
Because most uterine cancer develops in the endometrium, cancer of the uterus also is called endometrial cancer.
Abnormal bleeding after menopause is the most common symptom of cancer of the uterus. Bleeding may begin as a watery, blood-streaked discharge. Later the discharge may contain more blood.
Cancer of the uterus does not often occur before menopause, but it does occur around the time menopause begins. The reappearance of bleeding should not be considered simply part of menopause; it should always be checked by a doctor.
Abnormal bleeding is not always a sign of cancer but it should always be checked by a doctor. Early diagnosis is especially important for cancer of the uterus.
Cancer of the uterus can be diagnosed definitively only with a biopsy. This can be done with an endometrial biopsy or with an outpatient surgery called a D and C in which the doctors widens the cervix and inserts an instrument into the uterus to remove a sample of tissue.
Uterine cancer can be treated with surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and sometimes with hormone therapy. Patients who have had breast cancer or a family history of breast cancer must bring this to their doctor’s attention so the proper treatment can be arranged.
The cervix is the narrow, lower portion of the uterus. It opens into the vagina (birth canal), which leads to the outside of the body.
Early cervical cancer seldom causes symptoms. It can be detected only by a pelvic exam and a Pap test. If the pelvic exam or Pap test shows any abnormality the doctor will do more tests to find out what the problem is.
A biopsy is the only definitive test for cervical cancer.
Cervical cancer is one of the most common cancers. Six percent of all cancers in women are cervical cancers. When cervical cancer spreads it usually travels through the lymphatic system. For this reason surgeons often remove lymph nodes near the uterus to learn whether they contain cancer cells.
Treatment for cervical cancer can include surgery, radiation, or chemotherapy or a combination of these depending on the stage of the cancer, and the general health of the woman.