CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month is in September, but it is not spoken of nor does it get as much attention as other cancers. Oncologists are hoping to change that so more women are aware of the risks to their reproductive organs.
Katie Warren went to the doctor with pain in her lower stomach when she was just 25 years old.
“I had my annual exam eight months before they found a football sized tumor on my ovary,” Warren said.
She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was just the first of four bouts with the disease she would have in the next ten years.
“So, at 25, I had to have a complete hysterectomy and a bowel resection and my appendix out. And I had 6 rounds of chemo after that,” Warren said.
She went into remission for five years. No longer able to have children, she and her husband adopted. Then, the cancer came back. She’s 34-years-old and fighting her 4th diagnosis.
“We are praying for a miracle that this new drug will kick it to the curb forever, but this type of cancer is more like a chronic disease. So, I call it Whac-a-Mole. Each time it pops up, we fight it back down,” Warren said.
Ovarian Cancer is just one of the five subtypes of gynecological cancers. Gynecologic Cancers consist of ovarian cancer, uterine/endometrial cancer, cervical cancer, vulvar cancer, and vaginal cancer.
Dr. Elizabeth Skinner is a GYN oncologist at Novant Health. She says the American Cancer Society estimates about 113,000 women will be diagnosed with gynecologic cancer this year; 33,00 of them will die from the disease.
“Honesty, education, and understanding can lead to a reduction in the number of women who actually get cancers so that they are screened and diagnosed at an earlier stage,” Dr. Skinner said.
She says it is important for women to get regular pap smears and to receive the HPV vaccine.
“if we can vaccinate against that virus, we can potentially eliminate women from having cervical cancer at all,” Dr. Skinner said
Unlike other cancers, you may not notice a lump or something visible that can alert you to something wrong. Symptoms can include abnormal bleeding, pain, or discharge. Because the symptoms can be subtle, Dr. Skinner encourages all women to be aware of your body and speak up when you notice something different.
“It’s something that hasn’t been as prominent with other cancers. And I think part of that is because of the stigma of where the cancers are. A lot of people get uncomfortable when you start talking about reproductive organs, and when you label them and start putting names with them. In some circles, it’s considered a taboo topic,” Dr. Skinner said.
While it may be uncomfortable to talk about, Dr. Skinner says all women should be aware of it since all women are susceptible to these diseases.