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Understanding uterine and cervical cancers

  • 04.18.2015
By Jorge Perez, M.D., Ph.D., M.R.C.P., M.R.C. Path.
 
As seen in the
Uterine and Cervical Cancers - Sierra Nevada Cancer Center
 
Women face several types of gynecologic cancers. To help women understand and confront the disease, this and future articles will highlight each type of gynecologic cancer.
 
Uterine cancer, also known as uterine sarcoma, is a cancer of the muscle and supporting tissues of the uterus. Noncancerous tumors known as fibroid tumors also can develop in the uterus. Most of the time, these fibroid tumors require no treatment. 
 
Uterine cancer is one of the most frequent gynecologic cancers. It was estimated that, in 2013, about 49,560 new cases of cancer of the uterine corpus would be diagnosed, and 8,190 women would die from it.
The risk of uterine cancer increases for women who have had pelvic radiation, such as from previous cancer treatment. Race also is a risk factor: Uterine cancer is twice as common in African-American women as in white or Asian women. Women who have an eye cancer called retinoblastoma also are at increased risk. These risk factors mean that we cannot prevent uterine cancer, and we do not have any screening tests for women who have not shown symptoms.
 
The signs and symptoms of uterine cancer include abnormal bleeding, vaginal discharge and pelvic pain or a mass.
 
Physicians treat women with uterine cancer in four ways: Surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and hormone therapy.
 
Cervical cancer is less frequent and more treatable than uterine cancer. In 2013, women faced 12,340 new cases of invasive cervical cancer and 4,030 deaths.
 
Cervical cancer begins in the cells lining the cervix. Precancer cells can take many years to become cancer, and if those cells are detected by a Pap test and treated, cervical cancer can be prevented.
 
Unfortunately, many characteristics tend to increase the risk of developing cervical cancer. These include having the human papilloma virus (HPV); being at midlife but younger than 50; smoking; being  overweight; having HIV infection and other immune system weaknesses; having chlamydia infection; eating a diet low in fruit and vegetables; long-term use of birth control pills; having three or more full-term pregnancies and being younger than 17 at first pregnancy.
 
The good news: Most cervical cancer can be prevented by finding precancers through a Pap test and then treating them. Physicians believe that a woman must be infected by HPV before she develops cervical cancer. Vaccines have been developed that prevent most HPV infection.
 
The signs and symptoms of cervical cancer include abnormal vaginal bleeding, unusual vaginal discharge and pain during sex.
 
Physicians treat women with cervical cancer through surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy.
 
Watch for future articles to learn about related gynecologic cancers.
 
Dr. Perez is a medical oncologist with Sierra Nevada Cancer Center. He received his medical degree in his native Colombia. After practicing medicine there, he moved to England to complete a Ph.D. in cellular biochemistry and residency in internal medicine and in chemical pathology. He then completed fellowships in oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center and in hematology at Baylor College of Medicine, both in Houston, Tex. After practicing in Texas, he brought his expertise and concern for cancer patients to northern Nevada. With several locations including one on the NNMC campus in Sparks, patients can reach Dr. Perez at 775-883-3336.
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