Learn about some of the more common cancers in women, how we test for them and how they are treated.
Common Cancers in Women
Cancer, a disease in which some of the body's cells grow uncontrollably, can occur anywhere in the body. For women, common cancers include those of the breasts and reproductive organs. These include:
Breast cancer affects 1 in 9 women and occurs in the breast and surrounding tissue. Some people have no symptoms but a lump is found on routine examination. Any new breast pain, changes to breast skin texture or appearance, nipple discharge or bleeding should be reported to your GP. Please ensure you are enrolled in Breastscreen after age 50 and have regular screening mammograms every 2 years. Read more about breast health here.
Endometrial cancer, a form of uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer affects the lining of the uterus (womb). This is the most common gynaecological cancer in Australia. Symptoms involve unusual bleeding, especially bleeding after menopause, heavier irregular periods or bleeding when no period is expected.
Cervical cancer, which affects the cervix – the canal between the uterus (womb) and the vagina. These cancers can be prevented with treatment of pre-cancerous changes found on routine cervical screening tests. Symptoms can include bleeding after sex, bleeding between periods, or bleeding after menopause.
Ovarian cancer, which affects the ovaries, where hormones are made and eggs are formed. Often, there are no obvious signs of this type of cancer but symptoms may include bloating, trouble with eating, pressure on the bladder or bowel, changes to your periods and pain during sex.
Fallopian tube cancer is considered the same as ovarian cancer and starts in the fallopian tubes, which connect the ovaries to the uterus. This is the rarest gynaecological cancer. Similar to ovarian cancer they often cause few symptoms but symptoms can include discharge changes (watery or blood-stained), lumps or swelling in the lower abdomen, and trouble emptying your bowel or bladder completely.
Vaginal cancer affects the vagina, which is the canal that connects the outside skin of the vulva to the cervix. This type of cancer is very rare and may not have obvious symptoms, but symptoms can include a lump in the vagina or abnormal vaginal bleeding between periods, after a hysterectomy, after menopause, or after sex .
Vulvar cancer affects the vulva, which is the ‘outside skin area’ of female genitals, including the labia and clitoris. Symptoms can include lumps or growths on the vulva, skin changes in the vulva skin, or discharge from a sore spot on the vulva. Predisposing factors include longstanding skin conditions such as Lichen Sclerosus
What Causes Cancer?
Uncommonly cancers have a genetic contribution, meaning you were born with a gene mutation that predisposes you to the cancer, but there are many lifestyle and health factors that can increase your chances of cancer forming, which include:
- Smoking tobacco
- Consuming alcohol
- Other diseases, such as human papillomavirus (HPV), or human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Any immune suppressive treatment for auto-immune conditions such as arthritis or after a transplant
- Advanced age (the older you get, the more likely you are to have a cancer diagnosis)
- Exposure to radiation
Getting Tested for Cancer
- If you have any change to your vaginal discharge or bleeding pattern or develop new pain in the pelvic area, please see your GP to ensure there are no obvious concerns with respect to gynaecological cancer.
- Please ensure you remain up to date with the National Cervical Screening Program every 5 years to help prevent cervical cancer.
- Please have a screening mammogram every 2 years from the age of 50. You can find out more at BreastScreen Australia.
If you’re concerned about new symptoms, please talk to your doctor straight away. They may then recommend some tests, which may include:
- Cervical screening tests, to check the health of your cervix
- Referral for colposcopy, where the cervix, vagina and vulva are examined with a special tool called a colposcope
- Blood tests to check for any abnormalities
- Scans which may include X-rays, ultrasounds, CT scans or MRI scans
They may also recommend referral to a specialist to assess these new symptoms in more detail
Treatment and Management Options
Treatment options will be vary from person to person depending on the type of cancer and how advanced it is, plus the unique circumstances of each person’s condition.
Options can include:
- Surgery (including hysterectomy for cancer of ovaries, uterus or cervix, mastectomy for breast cancer, or oophorectomy for ovarian cancer). Read more about breast surgery options.
- Radiotherapy (radiology is available within the health precinct at the Royal Women’s hospital)
- Hormonal therapy
Specialist Care at Frances Perry House
The team at Frances Perry House includes gynaecological oncologists (cancer doctors specialising in gynaecological cancer surgery), breast oncologists and breast surgeons.
Our experienced, supportive specialists offer a range of cancer treatments and surgeries, including treatments to remove cancer as well as reconstructive surgeries as part of recovery. When treated for cancer at Frances Perry House, you may receive support from a multi-disciplinary team including breast care nurses, psychologists, physiotherapists and more.
If your GP is concerned about a possible diagnosis of cancer they may refer you to book a consultation with one of the Gynaecological Oncologists or Breast Surgeons who work at Frances Perry House. You can choose a specialist using our specialist search tool.