September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month. According to the Gynecologic Cancer Foundation, every seven minutes a woman around the world is diagnosed with gynecologic cancer.
Dr. Carol Brown, an oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City, talks with VOA's Penelope Poulou about the risks and the symptoms of these cancers.
Poulou: Dr Brown, what are the gynecologic cancers?
Dr. Brown: The gynecologic cancers are cancer of the ovary, cancer of the uterus and cancer of the cervix.
Poulou: What is the most common?
Brown: If you are talking about on a worldwide basis, the most common is actually cervical cancer. This is a cancer that affects women who are at childbearing age. It's actually the number one cause of death among young women in many nations around the world. Endomitrial and ovarian cancer are the most common cancers in certain countries, such as in the United States. Ovarian cancer accounts for about 24,000 new cases each year in the United States, and uterine cancer about 30,000 new cases each year.
Poulou: What makes ovarian cancer and uterine cancer, the most common ones in the United States, vis a vis the rest of the world?
Brown: Women who either don't have children or delay their childbearing till late in life, women who take exogenous hormones such as estrogen without taking other hormones such as progesterone, women who are overweight, women who have high fat diets, all these have been linked as risk factors to both ovarian and uterine cancers. And these are risk factors that tend to go on with the diet from life styles of more western or developed nations, such as United States.
Poulou: What are the steps a woman can take to protect herself?
Brown: The first step that a woman can take is to educate herself and to learn about what these cancers are as well as what some of the symptoms are. And symptoms can be pain, abnormal bleeding, that is bleeding between the menstrual cycle, or after the menstrual cycle has stopped and a woman has gone through the menopause, any type of bleeding, these are symptoms that should be brought to the attention of the woman's physician as soon as possible.
Poulou: Are women that are going through menopause more vulnerable to this type of cancers?
Brown: Well, women who have gone through menopause are at higher risk for uterine cancer. But ovarian cancer or cervical cancer, do affect women who are still menstruating and can still have children.
Media Personality and broadcast veteran Valerie Smaldone is a survivor of ovarian cancer. She talks about her experience, and her efforts to raise awareness about gynecologic cancers among women all over the world.
Poulou: How did you find out you were suffering from ovarian cancer?
Smaldone: Well, Penelope, it was quite a shock to me and to my physician. I had gone in for just a removal of a benign cyst on the ovary. And while they were in there, they biopsied as usual, and found a very small cancerous tumor adjacent to the ovary. And this only happened about four, five months ago.
Poulou: Did you find yourself facing a dilemma regarding the treatment?
Smaldone: It was very clear that there had to be surgery, and I was able to get away with just one ovary removal and after that a follow up care which would be the chemotherapy and I just finished my fourth round of Paraplatin - which was the drug that I took. That is done as a preventive course. And I was convinced that this was something that I really needed to do.
Poulou: Are there any risks of recurrence?
Smaldone: Always. There is always a risk for anybody that has dealt with cancer. And that's why a follow up is very very important. You cannot minimize that at all. You must continue to see your physician and go through all the testing and also again, be aware of the symptoms because symptoms can return.
Poulou: Many women of course, listen to what you say. Where can they get more information about risks for gynecologic cancer?
Smaldone: There is a website where people can go for risk assessment, www.wcn.org, and of course that's around the world, people can check that out. But, again, going for your yearly checkup with your physician and having a dialogue, and being educated about the risks, about the factors, about the prevention, is probably the best thing an individual woman can do. It is always her responsibility in the end to be aware of her body and her risks.