About 80,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers each year. Even more tragically, 28,000 of those women will, unfortunately, not survive. These types of cancers occur in women’s reproductive organs, and the most common types are uterine, cervical, vaginal, vulvar, and ovarian cancer.
There is no 100% fool-proof way to prevent gynecologic cancers from happening to you or your loved ones. However, there are several steps you can take to improve your odds and catch signs of the disease early.
Know Your History
One of the most important steps in understanding your risk for gynecologic cancers is knowing your family history. Since 50% of cancers are hereditary, it’s vital to know if anyone in your family ever had breast, ovarian, or urinary tract cancer.
If you know you have a family history, tell your OBGYN and primary care physician. They will be able to create a testing and screening schedule that works best for you.
Annual Screenings and Doctor Visits
The best way to prevent gynecologic cancers is early detection. This means staying on top of your annual screenings and your doctor visits. Every year you should visit both your OBGYN and general physician for check-ups. They will be able to detect any early warning signs for these cancers before any symptoms develop.
In addition to this, ask your trusted physicians which screenings you should be receiving. Most important is the pap smear, breast exam, and a mammogram. For the pap smear, all women aged 21-65 need to be receiving these every three years. For extra incentive, consider the fact that cervical cancers are most often found in women who do not regularly receive pap smears.
It is recommended that you receive a clinical breast exam at least every three years starting at age 20 and every year at age 40. Women ages 40 and older should receive a mammogram every year if they are at average risk. Your doctor will be able to establish what level of risk you are at and how your screening frequency times should be updated accordingly.
Just as important as yearly screenings are staying up to date on your vaccinations. When it comes to gynecologic cancers, this means the HPV vaccination. It significantly reduces your chances of cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
For children aged 11-12, a two-dose regimen is required. For anyone older than that, the vaccine is required in three doses. However, at the age of 26, the vaccination becomes ineffective. So, if you or any loved ones are in the age range, make sure to get your HPV vaccination before it’s too late.
Educate Yourself on the Early Signs
Before you head over the doctor’s office, it’s always good to educate yourself on early signs and symptoms of most gynecologic cancers. This way, if any of those symptoms begin to pop up before your annual exam, you can schedule an earlier appointment with your physicians to make sure it’s not a sign that something more serious is developing. Being proactive like this will reduce your chances of having metastatic and deadly cancer.
A great step forward in preventing gynecologic cancers is adopting healthy lifestyle choices. This means eating a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits, proteins, and carbs. It also means exercising on a regular basis, at least three times a week.
If you have poor health habits, like smoking or drinking excessively, it’s important to adjust them before they potentially impact your long term health.
If you have any further questions about gynecologic cancers, Covington Women’s Health Specialists experts are happy to assist you. Click here to schedule an appointment with us.