Breast and pelvic exams are part of a woman’s annual gynecological check-up. The doctor’s palpations during these procedures seek to uncover any lumps or abnormalities possibly indicative of cancer.
Although no one likes to think about developing cancer, the truth is that early detection saves lives. Many cancers of the reproductive system, including breast and uterine malignancies, are curable when caught and treated early.
Women with a family history of breast or gynecological cancer are at greater risk than women without a hereditary component, but genetics is just part of a cancer risk assessment. If you are concerned due to worrying symptoms or a dangerous family history, consult with a gynecologist immediately for a cancer risk assessment and peace of mind.
Cancer Risk Assessment
Genetic predisposition to cancers of the reproductive organs is part of a cancer risk assessment. A medical and family history is taken by the gynecologist, and the patient should provide information about any type of cancer or other serious medical problems involving close family members.
Genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation is advisable for women with a strong family history of breast and ovarian cancers. Women with the BRCA gene mutation who are finished with childbearing might opt for a prophylactic mastectomy or oophorectomy – removal of the ovaries – to prevent these cancers.
One in every eight women will eventually develop breast cancer. A breast exam is part of an annual gynecological exam. The gynecologist will also instruct the patient on how to perform routine breast exams. She can then contact the doctor if she notices any lumps or unusual masses in the breasts.
Women with a high cancer risk assessment for breast cancer should start having mammograms earlier than women with a lower cancer risk assessment. The gynecologist will advise each patient individually on the best mammogram schedule for them.
The greatest risk for a woman in developing cervical cancer is infection with human papillomavirus (HPV). Other risk factors include multiple sexual partners and genetic predisposition.
Today, the HPV vaccine is available to prevent cervical cancer. It does not treat a woman who already has the disease. The annual pelvic exam tests for abnormal cervical cells, to catch any cancer as soon as possible.
Early signs of cervical cancer include:
- Bleeding – between menstrual periods or after sex
- Watery, bad-smelling discharge
- Pelvic pain
Uterine cancer is most common in postmenopausal women. Overweight, older women are at greatest risk. Early signs of uterine cancer are subtle, but there is one important thing to keep in mind. It is not normal to start bleeding – even a small amount – after full-blown menopause.
Any bleeding, even light pinkish spotting, may indicate uterine cancer. Contact the gynecologist immediately if any level of postmenopausal bleeding occurs.
Hysterectomy is often the only treatment possible for early-stage uterine cancers.
About one in 70 women will develop ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, ovarian cancer symptoms are often vague until the disease reaches its later stages. There is currently no routine screening test for ovarian cancer. A woman experiencing any of the following persistent issues should contact her gynecologist for an examination:
- Appetite changes
- Bowel changes
- Frequent urination
- Lower back or pelvic pressure
Ovarian cysts, which are benign, have symptoms similar to ovarian cancer.