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Five Myths About Gynecologic Cancers

Myth #1: There are no early symptoms.

Fact: Many women with ovarian, uterine, cervical or vaginal cancer do have early warning signs. Common symptoms are abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating, urinary urgency, pelvic discomfort or abnormal bleeding and discharge. Unlike other medical conditions with these same symptoms, gynecologic cancer can cause them to occur daily and continue for several weeks or months. Symptomatic women who have been treated for other health conditions and have not improved should schedule a follow-up visit with their doctor or seek a second opinion.

Myth #2: Pap tests can detect all gynecologic cancers.

Fact: Of all the gynecologic cancers, only cervical cancer can be detected with a Pap test. This test can find this type of cancer early, when treatment can be most effective. The Pap test also helps prevent cervical cancer by finding pre-cancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if not treated. Pap tests cannot detect ovarian or uterine cancers. When one of these types of cancer is suspected, a doctor will perform a pelvic exam to check for masses or growths, or conduct diagnostic tests such as a CA 125 blood test and/or transvaginal ultrasound.

Myth #3: Ovarian cancer is always deadly.

Fact: Ovarian cancer is a serious illness, but it's not always deadly. When ovarian cancer is diagnosed and treated early, five-year survival rates are nearly 93 percent. Having a gynecologic oncologist perform the surgery increases survival rates. Combining certain chemotherapy drugs also may improve survival rates and help prevent recurrence, even in women with later stages of the disease.

Myth #4: Cervical cancer cannot be prevented.

Fact: Infection with the human papillomavirus, or HPV, must be present for cervical cancer to develop. This virus is transmitted sexually, but can be prevented with an available vaccine. Cervical cancer usually develops slowly after ongoing HPV infection and often appears as a precancerous condition called dysplasia. If detected at this stage, it can be effectively treated to prevent cervical cancer from developing. Screening with Pap smears and tests for HPV detect these pre-cancerous conditions so patients are treated early.

Myth #5: Taking the birth control pill can increase your risk of getting gynecologic cancers.

Fact: There are certain hormone based contraceptives that have been shown to reduce the risk of uterine and ovarian endometrial cancer with long term use. Talk to your doctor to learn more.