Gynecologic cancers are diseases of women’s reproductive organs. Our multidisciplinary team has diagnosed and treated them all. Your care team of gynecologic oncologists, surgical oncologists, and radiation oncologists work together to create a plan for your unique treatment needs.
Reproductive cancers affect more than your body. They impact your overall health, emotions, family, and plans for the future. Our team understands and takes your concerns to heart. You’ll be treated as the one-of-a-kind person you are, with your own care needs and treatment goals.
Types of Gynecological Cancers
- Cervical cancer. This is cancer that starts in the cervix and it develops most often in women over age 30. The main cause is a long-lasting infection with certain types of human papillomavirus (HPV). HPV is a common virus that passes from one person to another during sex.
- Ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer develops in the ovaries and may also occur in these related areas: the fallopian tubes and the peritoneum (the tissue lining covering organs in the abdomen). It is more common in older women, and treatment works best when the cancer is found early.
- Uterine cancer. This cancer starts in the womb, which is the organ where a baby grows during pregnancy. The different types of uterine cancer include endometrial cancer, uterine sarcomas, and gestational trophoblastic neoplasia.
- Vaginal cancer. It is a rare type of cancer that starts in the vagina (also called the birth canal). It is more common in women 60 and older, and you’re more likely to get it if you have had human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. You’re also at higher risk if you have had abnormal cells in the vagina, cervix, or uterus.
- Vulvar cancer. This rare disease develops when malignant cancer cells form in the tissues of the outer part of the female genitals, called the vulva. The cancer usually grows slowly over a period of years. First, precancerous cells grow on vulvar skin, which is called dysplasia. Not all dysplasia cases become cancerous, but it is best to get treated early.
Diagnosing Gynecologic Cancers
If you have certain symptoms that are concerning, a pelvic exam will most likely be the first diagnostic procedure you have. You may also have a Pap test if you haven’t already had one. Your lymph nodes may be felt to see if the cancer has spread, and a general physical might also be performed. If the results of these exams are abnormal, you might be advised to have more diagnostic tests, including:
- Biopsy. With this test, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue from your body and tests it in a laboratory to look for abnormalities in the tissue cells.
- Endoscopic procedures. These tests use a flexible lighted tube (endoscope) that has a video camera on the end. It lets the doctor use a monitor to see any abnormal areas in the reproductive organs. Small samples of these areas are biopsied through the endoscope. One of the endoscopic tests used to detect gynecologic cancers is the colposcopy.
- Imaging tests. Pictures are taken of the inside of your body to look for cancer, learn how far it has spread, and help see if treatment is working. Types of imagine tests include computed tomography (CT) scans, nuclear medicine scans (such as bone scans and thyroid scans), magnetic resonance image (MRI) scans, and positron emission tomography (PET).
- Pap test. Cells are taken from the cervix and viewed under a microscope. The test looks for cancerous or abnormal cells that may, without treatment, progress to cancer.
- Transvaginal ultrasound. The word “transvaginal” means “through the vagina,” and describes this internal examination. It is a type of pelvic ultrasound of your reproductive organs. A doctor or a technician will insert an ultrasound probe about 2 or 3 inches into your vaginal canal.
Treating Gynecologic Cancers
You’ll have a care team that not only treats the disease but helps you manage the side effects. As we develop your treatment plan, we take into account the type and stage of the disease, possible side effects, your age, overall health, and your plans to have children in the future.
At Tower Health, our cancer team collaborates through a tumor board which brings together experts in radiation oncology, radiology, pathology, genetics, and medical oncology to develop a treatment plan that maximizes your outcomes. Our team addresses current therapies, and looks at any possible behavioral health needs you may have. We also identify national and international trials and research initiatives for possible participation. Treatments may include:
- Chemotherapy. This treatment can cure or help control cancer and ease its symptoms. Chemo treatments use specialized medicines to kill cancer cells.
- Hormone therapy. Some cancers test positive for certain hormones that can be treated with hormone-blocking therapy. This treatment can slow or stop the cancer cells from growing or metastasizing.
- Surgery. This approach is used to diagnose and treat many gynecologic tumors. We use minimally invasive and robotic surgical approaches when possible. A hysterectomy is a type of surgical method that removes a woman’s uterus and can be used to treat cancers of the cervix, ovaries, and uterus. A hysterectomy is performed with open, traditional, vaginal, or robotic-assisted laparoscopic approaches.
- Radiation therapy. Usually used as a local treatment for these cancers, which means it targets and affects only the part of the body that needs treatment. Some of these therapies use radioactive substances that are given in a vein or by mouth and travel through the body, where it mostly collects in the area of the tumor.
Tumor gene profiling and molecular testing. We use tumor profiling to look at gene mutations in a tumor and molecular testing that can identify changes in molecules. These approaches help us plan for the most appropriate treatment specific to your tumor type.
Cancer Support and Rehabilitation
Cancer treatment can take a toll on your physical and emotional health. At Tower Health, we are here to support you every step of the way — from support groups and help managing side effects to wellness services, counseling, and rehabilitation. We offer convenient services close to home in Southeastern Pennsylvania.
Cancer Support Groups
When you have cancer, it helps to have someone who understands how you feel and how your life has changed. Our support groups bring together people who can relate to what you're going through because of their own experiences. Share your challenges and concerns, celebrate triumphs, and be encouraged by others who understand.