Women Can Lower Their Risk for Gynecologic Cancers

Sep. 16, 2013 — From losing weight to knowing their family history, there are several things women can do to lower their risk of developing certain types of cancer, and improve their chances for survival if they do develop one of them, according to the Society of Gynecologic Oncology (SGO), the leading organization of doctors and other health care professionals specializing in women’s cancers.

During September — Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month — gynecologic oncology specialists are making several recommendations about women’s cancers — cervical, endometrial (uterine), ovarian, vaginal and vulvar — which combined affect over 84,000 women and claim nearly 28,000 lives each year.

Here’s what SGO recommends:

Know Your Family History. If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, consult with a genetic counselor and consider genetic testing. Ovarian cancer is difficult to detect early and is the most deadly of the five women’s cancers. Having family members with ovarian or breast cancer may increase your risk for both diseases. In addition, in families with colon and endometrial cancer there may also be an increased risk of gynecologic cancers. Genetic counseling can help you determine your risk so that you can then consider steps for lowering it if it’s high. Those steps might include more intensive monitoring or surgical prevention.

Watch Your Weight. Endometrial (uterine) cancer is the most common of the women’s cancers, and being overweight is a major risk factor for developing the disease. Losing weight may significantly reduce your risk, and may help you survive if you do develop the cancer.

Vaccinate. Cervical cancer was once the most common cancer-related cause of death among women worldwide, and the Pap test has significantly lowered the death rate. But cervical cancer can be nearly eliminated if all girls and boys are vaccinated against the human papillomavirus (HPV), the virus responsible for most cervical cancer. As an adult, you can lower your risk by being tested for HPV and talking with your doctors about the need for monitoring if you have the virus.

Seek a Specialist. If you have a gynecologic cancer, you’ll have a better chance of survival if you are treated by specialists in gynecologic oncology, studies show. Gynecologic oncologists are trained and experienced in the most up-to-date treatments for these specific cancers, have access to clinical trials and work as part of a team with other medical professionals to provide comprehensive care. If you have been diagnosed, or if you are at high risk or have concerns about having a gynecologic cancer, ask your doctor for a referral to specialist in gynecologic oncology, or visit https://www.sgo.org/seek-a-specialist/.

“We want women to know that they can take these simple steps to reduce their risks of gynecologic cancers, and that as a team of specialists we are here to help,” said SGO President Barbara A. Goff, MD.