Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs. It can begin in different places within a woman’s pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones.
Cancer develops when genes in normal cells mutate and cause the cells to multiply uncontrollably. They form a disorganized mass of billions of abnormal cells called a tumor. Cancer cells can penetrate and damage nearby organs and tissues, a process known as invasion. They can also break away from a tumor and spread to other parts of the body through the bloodstream or lymphatic system, a process known as metastasis.
The type of gynecologic cancer diagnosed is determined from the part of the body where it starts. However, when a cancer spreads, such as uterine cancer spreading to an ovary, it is still considered uterine cancer and treated as such. It does not become ovarian cancer.
Types of Gynecologic Cancer
Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. (The uterus is also called the womb.)
Fallopian tube cancer develops in the fallopian tubes that connect the ovaries and uterus.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus.
Uterine (endometrial) cancer begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman’s pelvis where the baby grows when she is pregnant.
Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, which is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs (not shown).
Each gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs and symptoms, risk factors and prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and risk increases with age. Talk with your doctor about the prevention strategies available to you.
It is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you, so you can recognize the warning signs or symptoms of gynecologic cancer (cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers) and alert your doctor. Treatment is most effective when gynecologic cancers are found early.