The symptoms of gynecologic cancers can vary depending on the type of gynecologic cancer involved. Vaginal cancer can cause unexplained bleeding, pain, and the growth of lumps or tumors. Ovarian cancer may cause feelings of bloating in the abdomen, pain in the pelvic region, and an increased need to urinate. Gynecologic cancers can also have vague symptoms, such as loss of appetite, low back pain, low energy levels, and digestive problems.
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Cervical cancer: Early cervical cancer generally produces no signs or symptoms. Early signs may include abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially irregular heavy bleeding, bleeding after menopause, bleeding or spotting between periods, bleeding after sexual intercourse, pelvic (lower abdominal) pain, pain or pressure on the bladder or rectum, unexplained bladder irritation, and unexplained vaginal discharge (particularly when it is thick or foul-smelling). As the cancer progresses, symptoms may include vaginal bleeding following intercourse, between periods, or after menopause; watery, bloody vaginal discharge that may be heavy and foul smelling; and pelvic pain or pain during intercourse.
Endometrial cancer: Endometrial cancer often develops over a period of years. Abnormal vaginal bleeding may be one of the first signs of endometrial cancer. Most cases of endometrial cancer develop in postmenopausal women whose periods have stopped. However, a small percentage of cases affects women younger than 40.
Ovarian cancer: Symptoms of ovarian cancer may mimic those of many other more common conditions, including digestive and bladder disorders. Symptoms include sensation of abdominal pressure, fullness, swelling or bloating, urinary urgency, and pelvic discomfort or pain. These symptoms during ovarian cancer do not tend to subside. Additional signs and symptoms that women with ovarian cancer may experience include persistent indigestion, gas or nausea, unexplained changes in bowel habits, including diarrhea or constipation, changes in bladder habits, including a frequent need to urinate, loss of appetite, unexplained weight loss or gain, increased abdominal girth or clothes fitting tighter around the waist, pain during intercourse (dyspareunia), lack of energy, and low back pain.
Vaginal cancer: Signs and symptoms of vaginal cancer include: vaginal bleeding after menopause; vaginal bleeding after intercourse; abnormal vaginal discharge; a mass in the vagina that can be felt; pain during sex; pain when urinating; constipation; and constant pain in the pelvis.
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Bleeding between periods or during the menopause could be a sign of cancer. Over 80% of endometrial (lining of the uterus) cancers bleed. A palpable mass in the breast or pelvis should be evaluated by a physician urgently.
Some symptoms may be mild or absent. Changes in weight, a belt that doesn't fit right, or bowel changes could be symptoms of cancer. Use your judgement, see a physician urgently if you feel it is warranted.
Finally, an annual check-up is important to discuss those vague symptoms that might not seem to be important, but could be. Get a calendar and write down symptoms to see if there is a pattern. A mild symptom could be the piece of the puzzle that helps your physician find a cancer early.