September marks Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month, and for vagina-having folks, you might think that such concerns are far off in your future. Unfortunately, that’s not the case – gynecological health is just as important in your late teens and early 20s! Here’s everything you need to know about when it comes to screenings, and preventative steps.
What are Gynecological Cancers?
There are a few different types of gynecological cancers, which have their own different risk factors (which can include your genes). They include:
Uterine cancer is the most common type of gynecological cancer, and the fourth most common cancer overall in cis women in the US, according the CDC. It’s most common for those who have undergone menopause, but regular screening isn’t currently recommended.
It’s important to be aware of the symptoms, which include abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding and/or pain and pressure in the pelvic area. Risk factors include a family history of uterine cancer, obesity, and taking estrogen as a hormone replacement.
Though only accounting for less than 5% of gynecological cancers, ovarian cancer results in the most number of deaths. Survival rates for this cancer are quite good when caught early – unfortunately, only 20% are caught in early stages.
This is in part due to lack of screening process, but because the symptoms of ovarian cancer are easy to miss, like abnormal abdominal bloating, abdominal pain or pressure, and feeling full quickly when eating. If you or a family member has had ovarian, colorectal or breast cancer, then you may also be at risk.
We talk a lot about cervical cancer, because it has nearly no symptoms, and is almost always caused by HPV. HPV comes in many strains but those that can cause cancer can be avoided through vaccines. Additionally, as not all HPV will result in cancer, getting regular PAP smears is crucial! Learn more about what your first PAP smear will be like here.
Vaginal & Vulvar Cancer
The vagina and vulva are the parts of your intimate anatomy you’ll be most familiar with, and thankfully they are both rare forms of cancer. They are also both linked to HPV infections, meaning that vaccines and screenings should be a top priority!
Lane Baumeister is an internationally-based Canadian writer with several years’ experience creating educational and entertaining articles that discuss intimate health and sexual well-being. When not waxing profound about menstruation, she devotes herself to enjoying extremely good food and equally bad movies.