Frequently Asked Questions
Our Jefferson Health Gynecologic Oncology team is here to answer all of your questions, starting with the frequently asked questions below.
What is gynecologic cancer?
Gynecologic cancer is a group of cancers that affects the female reproductive system. The different types of gynecologic cancer vary in risk factors, causes and symptoms. The five main types of gynecologic cancers include:
- Cervical cancer originates in the cervix, the lower end of the uterus that leads to the vagina.
- Uterine (endometrial) cancer originates in the uterus, most commonly in the endometrium, the innermost lining of the uterus.
- Ovarian cancer originates in the ovaries, the female reproductive glands located on each side of the uterus.
- Vaginal cancer originates in the vagina and most commonly in the lining of the vagina.
- Vulvar cancer originates on the vulva, the outer surface of the female genitalia.
What are risk factors for gynecologic cancer?
Risk factors increase your chance of developing cancer, but do not mean that you will develop cancer. While different cancers have different risk factors, gynecologic cancers share several common risk factors, including:
- Human papillomavirus (HPV) infection
- HIV infection
- Long-term use of birth control pills
- Excess weight or obesity
- Poor nutrition
- Older age
- Family history
Although certain risk factors, such as age and family history, are out of our control, there are ways you can lower your cancer risk of developing gynecologic cancer, including:
- HPV vaccine
- Healthy diet and regular exercise
- Fewer sexual partners
- Safe sex with latex condoms
- Not smoking
If you are concerned about your risk of developing gynecologic cancer, you should speak with your gynecologist about your concerns and ways you can reduce your risk.
What are common symptoms of gynecologic cancer?
Treatment is most effective when gynecologic cancers are detected early. So, pay close attention to any changes in your body that may be early warning signs of gynecologic cancer.
While symptoms vary by person and cancer type, there are common symptoms that you should be aware of, including:
- Abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Pain during sex
- Frequent or urgent urination
- Bloating and/or feeling of fullness
If you experience any of these symptoms for two weeks or more, you should schedule an appointment with your gynecologist as soon as possible.
For more information about the symptoms of each type of gynecologic cancer, please visit the CDC website.
What screening tests are available for gynecologic cancer?
Screening tests can detect cancer even before you experience any symptoms. Early detection leads to more effective treatment and more positive outcomes. Currently, cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer that can be detected using a routine screening test.
The standard screening test for cervical cancer is called a Pap test or Pap smear, which involves collecting cells from your cervix to be examined under a microscope to find cellular abnormalities indicative of cancer or pre-cancer. You should start having a regular Pap test at age 21. Your gynecologist will determine how often you need to have a Pap test depending on your age and health history.
Another type of screening test for cervical cancer is the HPV test to detect human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common cause of cervical cancer. If you are age 30 and over, you should be tested for HPV with your Pap test every 5 years.
The Pap test and HPV test are screening tests so they cannot determine definitively if you have cervical cancer. If you have an abnormal test result, your gynecologist will discuss next steps, which may include further testing to determine if cancer or pre-cancer is present.
To screen for other types of gynecologic cancer, you should consider a routine pelvic exam if you are age 18 and over and sexually active. Depending on your medical history, you should consider having an endometrial biopsy to test for endometrial, or uterine cancer when you begin menopause. In addition, if you have a family history of gynecologic cancers, you should consider genetic testing to determine if you carry a specific gene mutation that increases your risk. Your gynecologist will be there for you, whether you’re 18 or 65, to help you determine what testing is appropriate for you.
How important is family history in predicting gynecologic cancer?
Discussing your family history with your gynecologist is the first step to determine if you are at higher risk of developing gynecologic cancer, such as ovarian or uterine cancer. Based on your family history, your gynecologist may recommend genetic counseling or testing to assess your risk. Identifying your risk is important to inform your cancer screening and risk reduction options to prevent or treat cancer as soon as possible.
At Jefferson Health, we have a dedicated Clinical Cancer Genetics program for people who have a higher risk of cancer due to their personal or family history.
How do you treat gynecologic cancer?
If you are diagnosed with gynecologic cancer, we will partner with you and your family to develop a highly personalized treatment plan based on your unique medical needs and personal preferences.
The treatment plan for gynecologic cancer most often starts with surgery and may also include a combination of chemotherapy and/or radiation therapy. Through a multidisciplinary approach, our team of medical, radiation and gynecologic oncologists will work together to design a treatment regimen specific to you.
How long should I expect to be in the hospital post-surgery?
The average length of time spent in the hospital post-surgery has decreased significantly over the past decade. If you undergo a minimally invasive surgery, you may be able to go home the same day as your surgery. More complex operations or procedures using a traditional surgical approach may require a hospital stay of 2-5 days. The length of time you stay at the hospital will depend on several factors after the operation. Our dedicated gynecologic oncology team will visit you daily to assess your progress and determine with you and your family when it is safe for you to return home.
Please speak with your provider or call us at 215-955-5000. You can also view additional Frequently Asked Questions about managing your Jefferson Health OBGYN visit.