The word ‘Cancer’ comes from Karkinos—the Greek word meaning crab. The Greek physician Hippocrates was the first to use the word carcinoma to describe tumours. The spreading arm-like projections of cancer-cells were probably the inspiration behind calling them by that name.
Cancer is a condition when some of the body’s cells start growing and dividing uncontrollably. These cells may spread to other tissues and/or organs. The uncontrollable cell division is known as carcinogenesis. Since the human body is made of trillions of cells, cancer can start anywhere. What makes it worse is that cancer cells do not degrade, as they should since the body does not require them. The accumulation of excess cells leads to tumour formation. These tumours may be benign or malignant (cancerous). While benign tumours do not spread or infiltrate the surrounding tissues, malignant tumours spread cancer. The process of cancer spreading to nearby organs is called metastasis.
The doctors at the best cancer hospital in Delhi and other places use one or more of the following methods to diagnose cancer.
Physical check-up: The doctor may feel areas of your body for lumps and other abnormalities such as a change in skin colour, unusual swelling etc. This is the most basic examination that will be followed by one or more tests in case your doctor suspects some condition.
Diagnostic lab tests: Diagnostic tests such as urine and blood tests may help your doctor identify abnormalities. For example, an unusually high number of certain blood cells in the blood may indicate leukaemia or blood cancer. The best way to stay on top of cancer prevention is to get hormone testing done regularly.
Imaging tests: Imagining tests are the best way to see what is going on inside your body without using an invasive technique. Tests such as computerised tomography (CT) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scan, X-ray, and ultrasound are found useful in cancer diagnosis.
Biopsy: One of the most trusted methods of cancer diagnosis biopsy relies on closely examining a sample of affected cells for cancer. The biopsy procedure varies depending on the location from where the sample is taken.
Gynaecological cancer is the word used to describe cancer affecting a woman’s reproductive system. Uterine, ovarian, cervical, vulvar, and vaginal cancers are the five main gynaecological cancers found in women.Cancer of the fallopian tube is an uncommon gynaecological cancer.
The data from the National Cancer Registry Program reveals cervix, uterus, and breast cancer are the most common gynaecological cancers among Indian women. About 50-60% of all malignancies in women are found in one of the following four organs—the cervix uteri, breast, corpus uteri, and ovaries. Unfortunately, more than 70% of women suffering from gynaecological cancer seek treatment in advanced stages resulting in low survival and high fatality rates.
Common signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer
According to doctors at the best cancer hospital in Delhi and other places, it is crucial to recognise early warning signals of cancer for successful treatment. Also, it is advisable to seek a cancer second opinion before starting treatment. Some common signs and symptoms to watch out for include:
- Unusually heavy vaginal bleeding or discharge with an unknown cause is common in all types of gynaecological cancer except vulvar cancer.
- Ovarian cancer symptoms include feeling overly full, difficulty eating, bloating, and pain in the abdomen or back.
- Pelvic pain or pressure is common in ovarian and uterine cancer patients.
- Ovarian and vaginal cancers are associated with more frequent or urgent urination and/or constipation.
- Itching, burning, pain or tenderness of the vulva, changes in the vulva’s or skin’s colour, rashes, sores, or warts are only found in vulvar cancer.
Factors contributing to cervical cancer include:
- Early marriage and childbirth
- Unprotected sex
- Oral contraceptive pills
- Family history of cervical cancer
- Having too many children
Factors contributing to uterine cancer include:
- Nulliparity (having no children) in adult women
- Estrogen therapy
- Menstrual irregularities
Factors contributing to ovarian cancer include:
- Family history of ovarian cancer
- Infertility medications
Factors contributing to vulvar cancer include:
- Cigarette smoking
- HPV infection
- Chronic vulvar conditions
- Family history of vulvar cancer
- Multiple sex partners
Factors contributing to vaginal cancer include:
- Pelvic radiation
- Vaginal trauma
- HPV (Human papillomavirus)infection
- HIV infection
- Cervical cancer
- Chronic vaginal discharge
Common tests for gynaecological cancer diagnosis
Here are some of the most common cancer marker tests that help doctors at the best cancer hospital in Delhi and other cities in detecting gynaecological cancer at an early stage.
- A rectovaginal pelvic exam, CA-125 blood test, alpha-fetoprotein test, and transvaginal ultrasound must be performed to detect ovarian cancer.
- Cervical cancer screening includes the Pap smear test or cervical cytology, cystoscopy, pelvic MRI, and HPV (Human papillomavirus) testing.
- Endometrial biopsy or transvaginal ultrasound is useful in the screening of uterine cancer.
- A pelvic examination and Pap smear test are usually performed to detect vaginal cancer.
- Examination of the vulva, colposcopy, and biopsy by analysis of a sample of the skin from the vulva are used to detect the presence of vulvar cancer.
Ways to prevent gynaecological cancer in women
- Primary prevention through education and vaccination
- Secondary prevention through screening, early diagnosis, and treatment
- Tertiary prevention through stage-wise treatment, palliation (medications, nutritional changes, emotional and spiritual support), and rehabilitation
Gynaecological cancer can be prevented by reducing the risk factors, identifying the symptoms, and screening. Ideally, cancer treatment includes chemotherapy, a biopsy of the affected organ, radiation, management through medicines, and immunotherapy to boost the immune system to fight cancer and reduce the side effects of cancer medications and chemotherapy.
However, it is good to seek a cancer second opinion regarding the condition and treatment options before starting treatment.
Never ignore these symptoms
Some symptoms that are suggestive of cancer that women should never ignore are:
- Consistent fatigue
- Abnormal PV bleeding after menopause
- Abdominal discomfort
- Abdominal distension
- Bowel and bladder changes
- Abnormal bleeding on HRT (hormone replacement therapy)
- Persistent swelling in the legs
- Unexplained loss/gain of weight
- Pain/discomfort in the chest
Cancer is curable provided it is diagnosed in time. A Pap smear test should be done every three years and an HPV test must be performed every five years. Most hospitals offer cancer diagnostic services. Follow a healthy lifestyle and go for periodical check-ups. After all, prevention is better than cure.