Gynecologic cancers are any cancer affecting the female reproductive system including the cervix, ovaries, uterus, fallopian tubes, vulva, and vagina. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, however the risk increases with age. According to the CDC, 89,000 women are diagnosed with gynecologic cancers and over 29,000 die due to them. Gynecologic cancers are often misdiagnosed and can have a vague symptom presentation. This, combined with health disparities, leads to the lack of awareness about these diseases.
Symptoms of Gynecologic Cancers
Symptoms related to gynecologic cancers aren’t particularly unique; they’re vague and are similar to a lot of other diseases. Luckily, the CDC published a chart which is helpful when comparing the similarities and differences of gynecologic cancers. It’s important for doctors to keep these cancers in mind when coming up with diagnoses.
Additionally, women undergo a plethora of changes in their bodies as a result of hormonal and menstrual changes. Health professionals can sometimes dismiss symptoms of abnormal vaginal discharge, pain with sexual intercourse, bloating etc. as routine symptoms of natural physical processes.
Prior to 1993, female subjects were allowed to be excluded from toxicology and biomedical research; this meant that the majority of studies were only carried out on male subjects. Because of this disparity and additional lack of funding, research on gynecologic cancers is lacking in comparison to, say, prostate cancer. Now, there are regulations in place by the National Institutes of Health to ensure that women and minorities are included in any government-funded health research. However, progress still needs to be made.
Racial and Socioeconomic Disparities
The five-year survival rate for gynecologic cancers is lowest among African American women than other races at each stage of diagnosis. Lower socioeconomic status has shown a higher cancer incidence rate due to lack of access to healthcare, specifically testing (ex: pap smears) for certain types of gynecologic cancers.
Additionally, in clinical trials for gynecologic cancers, non-white women are less likely to participate, largely because of mistrust in the medical system conducting these trials and the lack of opportunities and incentive to enroll. It’s vital that these disparities are addressed in order to provide equitable care and outcomes for all.