Today is the world cancer day and the theme of this year is "we can, I can." Yes we all can battle the cancer. But the irony is that majority of women ignore early signs and symptoms of cancer and do not consult doctors in time. Some of these cancers are actually preventable if proper action is taken.
What will you do if you feel gaseous distension (gas, bloating), acidity, constipation, change in bowel habit, decreased appetite, feeling of full stomach, weight loss and abdominal swelling? majority of the women ignore these symptoms and take antacids before it is too late. But these are often symptoms of early ovarian cancer and thus if you ignore these symptoms, you are harming yourself. Ovarian cancer is difficult to treat if detected at a late stage. But at an early stage, it is curable. So, don't ignore these symptoms.Who are the women at risk of ovarian cancer - women who are not having a baby, who themselves or have close relatives (sister/ mother/ daughter) with a history of cancer in breast/ ovary/ bowel/ uterus etc. But some women are at a lower risk like those using oral contraceptive pills- ocp (the birth control pills can reduce the risk by 50%) and those who have had tubal ligation (permanent family planning methods).If you have such risk factors, you must not avoid any such above mentioned symptoms. Rather you should consult gynecologist early. Ovarian cancer can be detected by ultrasound, ct scan, some blood tests (ca 125) and in some cases biopsy may be needed. And remember, majority of the ovarian diseases are not cancer but you must be sure that it's not cancer causing your problem.If ovarian cancer is diagnosed, the treatment is surgery (to be done by expert personnels) and most of the women need chemotherapy. Ovarian cancer is common in elderly women but it can affect younger women also. So, all the women should take care of the above mentioned symptoms.
Cancer of cervix
Cervix is the mouth of the uterus. In our country, this is the commonest cancer affecting women whereas it is uncommon in the western countries too. The irony is that women die of this disease whereas it is totally preventable.It is caused by a virus (human papilloma virus- hpv) that is sexually transmitted (so it affects sexually active women). But it has a peculiar feature that actually occurs, before cancer, called precancerous stage - when the cells of cervix show some changes that we can detect and treat. So, if women regularly consult a doctor (when they do not have problems), we can check if she is at risk of cervical cancer or not, by some simple tests (pap smear, hpv testing etc). If such changes are found (that is not cancer) we can treat her so that she does not develop cancer. These methods of detection, before disease occurs or before an individual feels that she is having disease, is called 'screening'.Another method of preventing, is vaccination of hpv, that should be given to the adolescent girls before they become sexually active. It can be given too older women (who are sexually active), although the response is somehow lower than if given at an early age. But vaccination is not alternative to screening. So, both screening and vaccination should be done to prevent this cancer.Even if detected at an early stage, it is totally curable. So, women should not ignore symptoms of excessive vaginal discharge (remember, all excessive discharges are not due to cancer), abnormal or heavy menstrual bleeding, bleeding occuring unpredictably in between menstruation, bleeding after intercourse etc.It is treated by surgery and some cases may need radiation also.
Cancer of uterus
Cancer of uterus is common after 50 years of age (although can occur in early years also). It is the commonest gynecological cancer in the western world. It mainly occurs in women who are obese (excessive weight), having diabetes or hypertension (high blood pressure), not having any baby, who are having personal or family history of cancer in uterus/ breast/ ovary/ bowel.It can be prevented by taking ocp (birth control pils) and controlling weight. In many cases, it is also preceeded by some precancerous changes (hyperplasia) that can be detected by ultrasonography and if needed small biopsy procedure.The common symptoms are abnormal heavy bleeding and bleeding after attaining menopause (after totall stoppage of menses). So, any abnormal menstrual bleeding must be properly investigated.It is usually well curable if treated early - by surgery and in few cases, may need radiation, chemo or hormone therapy.
Cancer of vulva
The external genitalia of female is known as vulva. Cancer in vulva is relatively uncommon but still it can happen, especially those who are having diabetes, are HIV positive or have poor hygiene.Never ignore any symptoms of excessive itching in your private parts. It may be the early symptom of vulval cancer. Some cases, patient may have ulcer or tumour or bleeding.It can be detected easily on examination by a doctor and then biopsy. It is treated well with surgery and some cases, radiation may be needed.
Summary: Majority of the gynaecological cancers are preventable. They can be diagnosed early if women consult doctor at an early stage. Majority of them respond to treatment.