Frequently Asked Questions

Knowing and sharing these facts can save your life and improve the quality of your survival or those of a woman you love.


1. What are gynecologic cancers?

Gynecologic cancers (or women’s cancers) are cancers of a woman’s reproductive organs. The major types are cervical, ovarian, uterine (or endometrial), vaginal, and vulvar. Breast cancer is not a gynecologic cancer.

2. How common are gynecologic cancers?

In 2015, the American Cancer Society estimates that 98,280 women in the US will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, and 30,440 will die from one. And according to Globocan 2012, an initiative of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, there are 1.09 million new cases of gynecologic cancers worldwide each year, accounting for 7.8% of all new cancer diagnoses.

3. Who is at risk of being diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer?

Every woman is at risk of being diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer, and the risk increases with age. Some women are at greater risk than others because of hereditary and other factors.

4. What are the signs and symptoms of gynecologic cancers?

The signs and symptoms are different for each gynecologic cancer, but all have signs and symptoms. See the chart below for symptoms to watch for, and visit your doctor if any of these symptoms or other symptoms that are unusual for you last for 2 weeks or more.


5. Is there a test to detect gynecologic cancers?

Cervical cancer is the only gynecologic cancer for which there is an established diagnostic test—the Pap Test (or Pap Smear). Tests and procedures such as physical examination and history taking, pelvic examination, ultrasound, and biopsies are used to detect (find or diagnose) cancer. And early detection (being diagnosed at an early stage) is a key factor in determining prognosis (chance of recovery).

6. Are gynecologic cancers hereditary?

Most gynecologic cancers are “sporadic” or not caused by an inherited gene; however, about 10% of all gynecologic cancers are hereditary. Hereditary cancers are caused by an inherited gene mutation (change).

7. Can gynecologic cancers be prevented?

Many factors such as your genes, lifestyle, and environment can affect your chances of being diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer. You can lower your risk in many ways (including getting regular exercise and having healthy eating habits), and there are also various protective factors that decrease your risk. You can change your lifestyle and perhaps your environment but not your genes. (See the table below.) Many clinical trials (or research studies) focused on preventing cancer are being conducted.


8. What are my chances of surviving a gynecologic cancer?

This year in the US, 98,280 women will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer and 30,440 will die from one. Worldwide, more than 1 million women will be diagnosed and nearly half as many will die. Although the death rates are alarming, all gynecologic cancers are survivable. And, your chances of surviving are related to factors such as your stage at diagnosis (tumor size and whether the cancer has spread), tumor grade (how abnormal your cells look and how quickly they are likely to grow and spread), cell type, age, general health, and the type of doctor who stages your cancer and treats you. Early detection (being diagnosed at an early stage) is key to a good prognosis (chance of a good outcome such as long-term survival).

9. What type of doctor should treat gynecologic cancers?

A gynecologic oncologist (a board-certified obstetrician-gynecologist with additional training in gynecologic oncology) is the type of doctor best trained to stage and treat gynecologic cancers.

And research has shown that women treated by a gynecologic oncologist have a survival advantage (that is, they may live longer and have better quality of life). Whoever you choose, you will have treatment options that include surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. Your individual treatment plan will depend on factors such as your age and general health and the cancer type, stage, and grade.

10. Where can I find reliable information on gynecologic cancers?

There are many sources of reliable information on gynecologic cancers, including the American Cancer Society, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Foundation for Women’s Cancers, the National Cancer Institute, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. There are also numerous patient advocate organizations that provide patient support and patient and public education as well as lobby for research funding.

For more links to resources and advocacy organizations, go to

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