How Do You Know If You Have Cancer in Your Reproductive System? 10 Signs

Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022
How Do You Know If You Have Cancer in Your Reproductive System
Depending on the location of origin, each gynecologic cancer presents with different signs and symptoms

Gynecologic cancer occurs when cancer starts in a woman’s reproductive organs, such as the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, cervix, vulva, and vagina. Depending on the location of origin, each gynecologic cancer presents with different signs and symptoms. 

Talk to a doctor right away if you have any of the following warning signs and they last for 2 weeks or longer.

10 common warning signs of gynecologic cancer

Common signs of gynecologic cancer include the following:

  1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding (after intercourse or menopause) or blood-tinged vaginal discharge 
  2. Feeling full too quickly or loss of appetite
  3. Bloating and abdominal or back pain (ovarian cancer)
  4. Pelvic pain or pressure (ovarian and uterine cancer)
  5. Unexplained or unintentional weight loss
  6. Constant fatigue
  7. Persistent indigestion or nausea
  8. Frequent or urgent need to urinate and/or constipation (ovarian and vaginal cancer)
  9. Itching, burning, pain, or tenderness in the vulva or skin changes such as rash, sores, or warts (vulvar cancer)
  10. Changes in the breast (lumps in the breast or armpit, changes in the skin on the breasts, changes in the look and feel of breasts, and abnormalities in the nipples)

What are different types of gynecologic cancer?

There are five main types of gynecologic cancer:

  • Cervical cancer: Begins in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end (or the mouth) of the uterus
  • Ovarian cancer: Begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus
  • Uterine cancer: Begins in the uterus, which is the pear-shaped organ in the pelvis (womb)
  • Vaginal cancer: Begins in the vagina, which is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and outside of the body
  • Vulvar cancer: Begins in the vulva, which is the outer part of the female genital organs

Can you prevent gynecologic cancer?

Women of all ages are at risk of gynecologic cancer, and the risk increases with age. While there is no way to prevent gynecologic cancer, you may be able to reduce your risk with preventative measures such as:

  • Screening tests: These are tests done to look for a disease before the presence of any symptoms, which can lead to earlier and more effective treatment:
    • Pap test: Screening test done to detect cervical cancer by finding precancerous stages and cell changes on the cervix that may become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately
    • Human papillomavirus (HPV) test: Looks for HPV infection that can be used for screening women who are 30 years and older
  • Recognize warning signs: Because there is no simple and reliable way to screen for any gynecologic cancer except cervical cancer, it is particularly important to understand and recognize warning signs.
  • Talk with your doctor if you are at increased risk: Be aware of your family’s health history of breast or ovarian cancer. If you have a family history of these types of cancer, your doctor may recommend genetic counseling and testing.
  • HPV vaccination: Cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancer can be caused by HPV. HPV vaccination prevents new HPV infections but does not treat existing infections or diseases, which is why the HPV vaccine works best when given before any exposure to HPV.
    • HPV vaccination is recommended for children aged 11-12 years but can be given to anyone older than 9 years.
    • HPV vaccination is not recommended for everyone older than 26 years. Some women aged 27-45 years who are not already vaccinated may decide to get the HPV vaccine after speaking with their doctor about their risk for new HPV infections and the possible benefits of vaccination.
    • If vaccination is started before the age of 15 years, a two-dose schedule is recommended, with the doses given 6-12 months apart. However, for people who start the series after age 15, the vaccine is given in a series of three shots.

How is gynecologic cancer treated?

Regular screening and early detection are key when it comes to cancer treatment. Depending on the type of cancer and whether it has spread, gynecologic cancer treatment options may include:

  • Surgery: Cancerous tissues and a healthy margin are surgically removed.
  • Chemotherapy: Special medications (oral or intravenous) are used to shrink or kill the cancer cells.
  • Radiation: High-energy rays (similar to X-rays) are used to kill the cancerous cells.


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Medically Reviewed on 6/28/2022
Image Source: iStock image

What Is Gynecologic Cancer? CDC:

10 cancer symptoms women shouldn't ignore. MD Anderson Cancer Center: