Originally Released: September, 1999
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Gynecologic cancers, which involve the female reproductive tract, strike about 1400 women in Maryland and 82,000 women in the United States each year. They are the fourth most common type of cancer among American women today.
During September, which is GYN Cancer Awareness Month, experts at the University of Maryland Medical Center want to make more women realize the importance of early detection and treatment, for the best chance of a cure.
"Regular pap smears and GYN exams are the key to finding cervical cancer early, but unfortunately, half of the women in Maryland have not had a pap smear in the last three years," says Sandra E. Brooks, M.D., director of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology and assistant professor of OB-GYN at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Dr. Brooks adds that at a minimum, all women after age 18 should have the test every three years, and some women should have them annually.
The incidence of cervical cancer in Baltimore is one and a half times the national rate, and the death rate is twice the national rate. "Approximately one in every 20 women in the United States will develop gynecologic cancer during her lifetime," says Dr. Brooks.
Gynecologic cancers also include ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Symptoms include unusual vaginal bleeding or discharge, a sore that does not heal, pain or pressure in the pelvic area, a persistent change in bowel or bladder habits, frequent indigestion or abdominal bloating, or a thickening or lump that either causes pain or can be seen or felt.
"When we detect these cancers early, women have many more treatment options. Women should be aware of the warning signs and the importance of early detection and proper treatment," says Dr. Brooks.
In addition to regular exams and pap tests, she says it is very important to avoid smoking, since smoking quadruples a woman's risk of developing cervical cancer.
Here are four things women can do to maintain good GYN health:
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