From Marcia C. Bowling, MD, Gynecologic Oncologist with OHC

May 13, 2024

As a practicing gynecologic oncologist, I frequently examine and treat women with advanced disease, sometimes due to the patient’s delay in scheduling routine screenings or ignoring new or persistent symptoms. My counsel to all women is to stay focused on their overall well-being. Everyday life, work, and family responsibilities can redirect their attention from themselves. Access to healthcare also plays a factor.  Having a relationship with a healthcare provider and making your health a priority will improve your chances of catching cancer early.

As cancer doctors, we know early detection plays a crucial role in successful treatment and better outcomes for women, making it essential to recognize and act upon potential warning signs early on.

That being said, not all cancers present with early signs and symptoms. Paying attention to your body and knowing what is normal for you so you can report anything that seems unusual is very important.

What Are Gynecologic Cancers?

Gynecologic cancers affect a woman’s reproductive organs. Types of gynecologic cancer include cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar.  Breast exams are also an important part of gynecologic screening and at OHC we have breast surgical oncology doctors who we collaborate with.

Some gynecologic cancers are more often diagnosed in late stages due to vague symptoms and being similar to those of other conditions.  Early diagnosis gives us valuable time to improve your chances of successful outcomes.  Each cancer has unique signs, but they share some common symptoms.

What Should I Watch For?

  • Abnormal bleeding: This is one of the most common symptoms across various gynecologic cancers. This could be heavier periods, bleeding between periods, or bleeding after menopause. Any unexplained bleeding change in your usual pattern warrants a visit to your healthcare provider.
  • Unexplained weight loss: If you suddenly lose more than 10 pounds without changing your diet or exercise habits, talk to your doctor.
  • Pelvic pain or pressure: A constant, dull ache or sharp pain, especially unrelated to menstruation, shouldn’t be dismissed.
  • Bloating or feeling full: Persistent bloating, even without weight gain, especially for two weeks or more, could be a red flag.
  • Changes in discharge: Foul-smelling, bloody, or unusually heavy discharge needs your doctor’s attention.
  • Vulvar changes: Itching, burning, sores, or unusual bumps on the vulva shouldn’t be ignored.
  • New changes in bathroom habits: Difficulty urinating, frequent urination, or constipation should be reported to your healthcare provider.
  • Loss of appetite or feeling full all the time:  Appetite changes may be symptoms of ovarian cancer or other cancers not related to the reproductive systems.
  • Pain during sexual intercourse: Any new pain experienced during intercourse should be examined by your doctor.

What Else Can I Do?

Reducing your risk means being educated about your health. Below are some preventative things you can do:

  • Yearly check-ups with your healthcare provider
  • Pap smears according to guidelines
  • Pelvic exams are crucial for proactive detection.
  • Do not smoke.
  • Get the HPV vaccine and ensure your children (both boys and girls) get theirs, too.
  • Your doctor is your partner in health, and early detection starts with open communication.
  • Avoid having sexual intercourse until your late teens or older.
  • Limit your number of sexual partners
  • Use condoms during sexual intercourse
  • Don’t hesitate to ask questions, voice your concerns, and schedule appointments if anything feels unusual.

Every woman’s body is unique, and symptoms can vary greatly. Listen to your intuition.  You know your body best.  If something feels different, “off,” or persistent, even if it’s not on the list, speak to your healthcare provider. Keep in mind, even if you’re not experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s crucial that you visit your healthcare provider annually.  It’s important to also pay attention to screening guidelines and follow the recommendations based on your personal and family history.

You are not alone in this journey. Prioritize your well-being, listen to your body, and advocate for yourself. Don’t be afraid to advocate for your mom, sisters, aunts, daughters, and friends by sharing this information.  If you or someone you know is diagnosed with gynecologic cancers, OHC’s multi-disciplinary team of cancer experts are here to provide you with everything you need to beat cancer.

To learn more about gynecologic cancers, schedule an appointment or to request a second opinion, please call OHC at 888-649-4800 or visit

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