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Gynecologic Cancer Prevention

There are many different types of gynecologic cancer, each with its own causes and risk factors. However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk of getting cancer.

Cancer Screening For Women

We recommend regular cancer screenings in order to detect cervical cancer in its earliest stage. Cervical cancer is one type of gynecologic cancer.

The main cause of cervical cancer is infection from a virus called human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV infection is very common and spreads through sexual contact. Most people don't know they have HPV because it doesn't cause any symptoms. Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer type that we can detect with regular screening, including Pap test.

At Dignity Health, we are committed to cancer prevention and early detection. Learn more about our cancer screening guidelines for women.

Gynecologic Cancer Prevention

Steps to prevent cancer range from lifestyle changes to surgery.

Gynecologic Cancer Prevention: Lifestyle Changes

Starting today, you can create healthy habits that lower your risk for gynecologic cancers and for cancer overall. These include:

  • Reduce your human papillomavirus (HPV) risk. Talk to your doctor about steps you can take to prevent HPV.
  • Avoid tobacco. Studies have linked tobacco use to gynecologic cancer, so quitting smoking can help you lower your risk.
  • Diet and exercise. Your diet should be rich in fruit and vegetables. Eat high fat foods sparingly. In addition, try to get 30 minutes of exercise every day.

Gynecologic Cancer Prevention: Early Detection

Most women with cervical precancerous lesions report no symptoms, so it is important to get regular screenings before symptoms are present. The American Cancer Society recommends gynecologic cancer screening starting at age 21 with a regular Pap test done every three years.

Starting at age 30, an HPV test may be done along with the Pap test. At age 65 and older, you and your doctor should decide together which gynecologic cancer screenings are appropriate based on past test results.

Gynecologic Cancer Prevention: Prophylactic Surgery

If you have a high risk of gynecologic cancer, such as ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about surgery to remove one or both ovaries.

Learn more about specific gynecologic cancers:

Ovarian Cancer: Symptoms

Ovarian cancer usually starts on the surface of the ovary. According to the American Cancer Society, ovarian cancer is more common in Caucasian women than African-American women and about half of the women diagnosed with this form of gynecologic cancer are 60 years of age or older.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are similar to symptoms of other conditions. If they persist for more than a few weeks, talk with your doctor about possible gynecologic cancer screenings to rule out ovarian cancer. We may recommend an ultrasound and/or blood tests for screening purposes.

Symptoms of ovarian cancer include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms (urgency or frequency)

Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer: The Most Common Gynecologic Cancer

Endometrial cancer is the most common gynecologic cancer, with roughly one in 38 women diagnosed with it sometime in her lifetime. The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly 50,000 new cases of uterus cancer (including endometrial cancer and uterine sarcomas) will be diagnosed in 2013.

Endometrial Cancer: Symptoms

Since we most often diagnose endometrial cancer after women report symptoms, it is important to know the signs of this gynecologic cancer, which include:

  • Irregular vaginal bleeding before menopause or bleeding after menopause
  • Abnormal discharge (could be caused by other conditions, but should be reported to your doctor)
  • Pelvic pain
  • Feeling a lump or mass
  • Unexplained weight loss

There are no screening tests for endometrial cancer, but most gynecologic cancers of this type are found in the early stages when women report their symptom of abnormal bleeding to their doctor and have a biopsy confirming the cancer. Exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight all can lower a woman's risk of getting uterine cancer.