Gynecological Cancers Often Picked Up Later: May 29, 2012

It’s well established that the Pap test provides early detection, which dramatically decreases cervical cancer deaths.

“The Pap test is designed for one thing and that’s to detect pre-malignant or malignant abnormality of the cervix, period. So if a woman has a negative Pap test, she cannot assume that she doesn’t have uterine cancer, she cannot assume she doesn’t have ovarian cancer, she cannot assume she doesn’t have vaginal cancer,” says Dr. Jimmy Orr, a gynecologic oncologist with Lee Memorial Health System’s medical staff.

Therein lays the problem. Almost half of the 78,000 women each year who diagnosed with a cancer of the reproductive system are detected in later stages.

“Three out of four women who are diagnosed with ovarian cancer have stage 3 or 4 disease. One can have a small tumor that grows for a prolonged period of time shedding cells allowing it to develop,” says Dr. Orr.

Among women, ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death. If caught early enough, there are effective treatments. The trick is finding it.

“I think oftentimes we forget about the most important thing and that’s a physical examination, a good pelvic examination. Exams and specific imaging studies can be helpful for ovarian and tubule disease. A biopsy of the lining of the uterus can be very important for women who have uterine cancer,” says Dr. Orr.

Women themselves may notice subtle symptoms.

“Bloating, gassiness, dyspepsia or acid reflux. All of these are signs, and then there are a whole other group of women who may have a high risk who have a family history of ovarian or a strong history of breast cancer,” says Dr. Orr.

In the future, there could be more magic markers, like the Pap test. Until then, women should be their own health advocates.

“And if something’s not right, they need to come forward and not be afraid to tell someone,” says Dr. Orr.