Cancer

If you have cancer or are close to someone who does, knowing what to expect can help you cope. Here you can find out all about the different types of cancer, its symptoms, and how it is treated.

Breast Cancer

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What Is Breast Cancer?

Breast cancer is a type of cancer that starts in the breast. It can start in one or both breasts. Cancer starts when cells begin to grow out of control.

Breast cancer occurs almost entirely in women, but men can get breast cancer, too.

It’s important to understand that most breast lumps are benign and not cancer (malignant). Non-cancer breast tumors are abnormal growths, but they do not spread outside the breast. They are not life-threatening, but some types of benign breast lumps can increase a woman’s risk of getting breast cancer. Any breast lump or change needs to be checked by a health care professional to determine if it is benign or malignant (cancer) and if it might affect your future cancer risk.

How breast cancer spreads:

Breast cancer can spread when the cancer cells get into the blood or lymph system and then are carried to other parts of the body.

The lymph (or lymphatic) system is a part of your body’s immune system. It is a network of lymph nodes (small, bean-sized glands), ducts or vessels, and organs that collect and carry clear lymph fluid through the body tissues to the blood. The clear lymph fluid inside the lymph vessels contains tissue by-products, waste material, and immune system cells.

The lymph vessels carry lymph fluid away from the breast. In the case of breast cancer, cancer cells can enter those lymph vessels and start to grow in lymph nodes. Most of the lymph vessels of the breast drain into:

  • Lymph nodes under the arm (axillary lymph nodes)
  • Lymph nodes inside the chest near the breastbone (internal mammary lymph nodes)
  • Lymph nodes around the collar bone (supraclavicular [above the collar bone] and infraclavicular [below the collar bone] lymph nodes)

If cancer cells have spread to your lymph nodes, there is a higher chance that the cells could have traveled through the lymph system and spread (metastasized) to other parts of your body. Still, not all women with cancer cells in their lymph nodes develop metastases, and some women with no cancer cells in their lymph nodes might develop metastases later.

Types of breast cancer:

There are many different types of breast cancer. The specific kind of cells determines the type in the breast that is affected. Most breast cancers are carcinomas. Adenocarcinomas are the most common breast cancers, such as ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) and invasive carcinoma. The cancers start in the gland cells in the milk ducts or the lobules (milk-producing glands). Other kinds of cancers can grow in the breast, like angiosarcoma or sarcoma, but are not considered breast cancer since they start in different breast cells.

Breast cancers are also classified by specific proteins or genes each cancer might make. After a biopsy, breast cancer cells are tested for proteins called estrogen receptors and progesterone receptors and the HER2 gene or protein. The tumor cells are also closely examined in the lab to determine their grade. The specific proteins found and the tumor grade can help decide cancer and treatment options.

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Symptoms

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Breast Cancer Signs and Symptoms:

Knowing how your breasts usually look and feel is an integral part of your breast health. Although having regular screening tests for breast cancer is essential, mammograms do not find every breast cancer. This means it’s also necessary for you to know what your breasts usually look and feel like, so you’ll be aware of any changes in your breasts.

The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass (although most breast lumps are not cancer). A painless, hard mass with irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can also be soft, round, tender, or even painful.

  • Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include:
  • Swelling of all or part of a breast (even if no lump is felt)
  • Skin dimpling (sometimes looking like an orange peel)
  • Breast or nipple pain
  • Nipple retraction (turning inward)
  • Nipple or breast skin that is red, dry, flaking, or thickened
  • Nipple discharge (other than breast milk)
  • Swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone (Sometimes, this can be a sign of breast cancer spreading even before the breast’s original tumor is large enough to be felt.)

Many of these symptoms can also be caused by benign (non-cancerous) breast conditions. Still, it’s essential to have any new breast mass, lump, or other change checked by an experienced health care professional so the cause can be found and treated if needed.

Remember that knowing what to look for does not take regular screening for breast cancer. Screening mammography can often help find breast cancer early before symptoms appear. Finding breast cancer early gives you a better chance of successful treatment.

Diagnosis

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Can Breast Cancer Be Found Early?

Breast cancer is sometimes found after symptoms appear, but many women with breast cancer have no symptoms. This is why regular breast cancer screening is so important.

Imaging Tests to Find Breast Cancer:

Different tests can be used to look for and diagnose breast cancer. If your doctor finds an area of concern on a screening test (a mammogram), or if you have symptoms that could mean breast cancer, you will need more tests to know for sure if it’s cancer. These include:

  • Mammograms
  • Breast Ultrasound
  • Breast MRI
  • Newer and Experimental Breast Imaging Tests

Treatment

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Common treatment approaches:

Typically, treatment is based on the type of breast cancer and its stage. Other factors, including your overall health, menopause status, and personal preferences, are also considered.

Local treatments:

Some treatments, like surgery and radiation, are local, meaning they treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body.

Most women with breast cancer will have surgery to remove the tumor. Depending on the type of breast cancer and how advanced it is, you might need other types of treatment as well, either before or after surgery, or sometimes both.

Systemic treatments:

Drugs used to treat breast cancer are considered systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. Some can be given by mouth, injected into a muscle, or put directly into the bloodstream. Depending on the type of breast cancer, different types of drug treatment might be used, including:

  • Chemotherapy for Breast Cancer
  • Hormone Therapy for Breast Cancer
  • Targeted Drug Therapy for Breast Cancer
  • Immunotherapy for Breast Cancer

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also essential to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.

It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion if time permits. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

Cervical Cancer

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What is cancer of the cervix?

A woman’s cervix is covered by a thin layer of tissue made up of cells. Healthy cells grow, divide, and are replaced as needed. Cancer of the cervix occurs when cells become abnormal. Cancer cells divide more rapidly. They may grow into deeper cell layers or spread to other organs. The cancer cells eventually form a mass of tissue called a tumor.

An estimated 12,000 new cases of cervical cancer occur each year in the United States, and each year about 4,000 U.S. women will die from this disease.

It takes several years for cervical cancer to develop. During this time, the cells on or around the cervix become abnormal. The early cell changes before cancer are present are called dysplasia or cervical intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN).

What is the leading cause of cervical cancer?

The leading cause of cervical cancer is human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. There are many types of HPV. Some types of HPV, called “high-risk types,” can cause cancer of the anus, cervix, vulva, vagina, and penis. They also can cause cancer of the head and neck. Other HPV types have been linked to genital warts.

HPV infection is widespread. It is passed from person to person through sexual contact. Some research suggests that at least 3 in 4 people who have sex will get a genital HPV infection. However, being infected with HPV does not necessarily mean that a person will get genital warts or develop cancer.

Is there a screening test for cervical cancer?

Yes. Cervical cancer is largely preventable by having regular cervical cancer screening. About one-half of cervical cancer cases occur in women who have never had screening.

Cervical cancer screening includes the Pap test, an HPV test, or both. The Pap test checks for abnormal cell changes in the cervix. The HPV test can detect many high-risk types of HPV even before there are visible changes to cervical cells. See Cervical Cancer Screening for more information.

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Symptoms

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What are some of the symptoms of cervical cancer?

Cervical dysplasia and cancer of the cervix often have no symptoms. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer cells may have already spread. The first signs may be abnormal bleeding, spotting, or watery discharge from the vagina when symptoms occur. Menstrual bleeding may be heavier than usual, and bleeding may occur after sex. Most of the time, these signs are caused by other health problems besides cancer. However, if you have any of these symptoms, you should see your health care practitioner.

Signs of advanced cancer can include pelvic pain, problems urinating, and swollen legs. If cancer has spread to nearby organs or the lymph nodes, the tumors can affect how those organs work. For example, a tumor might press on your bladder or block blood flow. These symptoms do not always mean cancer. If you have any of these symptoms, see your health care practitioner right away.

 

Diagnosis

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How is cervical cancer diagnosed?

If your health care practitioner suspects that you have cancer of the cervix, a biopsy may be done. Cancer can be detected with a Pap test, but a biopsy is needed.

If cervical cancer is diagnosed, your health care practitioner will assess the size of cancer and the extent (if any) to which the disease has spread. This process may include the following tests:

  • A pelvic exam (which may include a rectal exam)—An examination of the uterus, ovaries, and other organs near the cervix
  • Cystoscopy—A test in which the inside of the urethra and bladder are studied with a lighted device
  • Colonoscopy—A test in which the entire colon is examined with a slender, lighted instrument called a colonoscope

Because cervical cancer can spread to other body areas, you may need other tests to check these areas.

Treatment

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What are the types of treatment?

Invasive cancer of the cervix is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy (using cancer-killing drugs). The type of treatment chosen depends on the cancer stage. You may receive more than one type of treatment.

Treatment works best in the early stages of cancer. The 5-year survival rate for stage I cancer is 91 percent. The 5-year survival rate for stage IV cancer is 17 percent.

What is involved in surgical treatment for cervical cancer?

If surgery is recommended, the goal is to remove the tumor and any tissues where it may spread. In a simple hysterectomy, the cervix and uterus are removed. The ovaries may not be removed if they appear normal. In a radical hysterectomy, the structures that support the uterus and a small part of the upper vagina also are removed. The ovaries, fallopian tubes, and nearby lymph nodes also may be removed.

What is involved in radiation therapy for cervical cancer?

Radiation therapy stops cancer cells from growing by exposing them to particular radiation. Two methods can be used:

  • In one method, radiation from outside the body is directed at the tumor through the skin. This treatment can require daily visits to a clinic for several weeks.
  • In the second method, a device that directs radiation at the tumor from inside the body is placed in the cervix. This treatment may be done as an outpatient procedure, or it may require a stay in the hospital.

Complications of radiation therapy include vaginal dryness, narrowing of the vagina, and damage to the ovaries, bladder, or bowel.

What is involved in chemotherapy for cervical cancer?

Chemotherapy is the use of cancer-killing drugs. Chemotherapy drugs travel through the blood and destroy different cells, including cancer cells. The treatments may be given in cycles either in a doctor’s office or clinic or require a hospital stay. It can be given alone or with radiation to make the radiation therapy more successful.

Is exceptional follow-up required after treatment?

Depending on the cancer stage and the type of treatment, cervical cancer usually does not return. However, close follow-up is needed. Routine checkups and cervical cancer screening tests are essential even after treatment ends.

Your health care practitioner may suggest more frequent cervical cancer screening tests for the first few years after treatment to remove all the cancer cells. Even if your cervix has been removed to treat your cancer, you still need cervical cancer screening. Cells are taken from the upper vagina instead of the cervix.

You also may need other tests and procedures. You and your health care practitioner will work together to plan your follow-up care.

Ovarian Cancer

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What Is Ovarian Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and can spread.

Ovarian cancers were previously believed to begin only in the ovaries, but recent evidence suggests that many ovarian cancers may actually start in the cells in the far (distal) end of the fallopian tubes.

Ovaries are reproductive glands found only in females (women). The ovaries produce eggs (ova) for reproduction. The eggs travel from the ovaries through the fallopian tubes into the uterus where the fertilized egg settles in and develops into a fetus. The ovaries are also the main source of the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. One ovary is on each side of the uterus.

The ovaries are mainly made up of 3 kinds of cells. Each type of cell can develop into a different type of tumor:

  • Epithelial tumors start from the cells that cover the outer surface of the ovary. Most ovarian tumors are epithelial cell tumors.
  • Germ cell tumors start from the cells that produce the eggs (ova).
  • Stromal tumors start from structural tissue cells that hold the ovary together and produce the female hormones estrogen and progesterone.

Some of these tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and never spread beyond the ovary. Malignant (cancerous) or borderline (low malignant potential) ovarian tumors can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body and can be fatal.

M Family Foundation

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After many years of treating women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Dr. David A. Marcantel, owner of Celebration Obstetrics and Gynecology,  tragically lost his mother, Rebecca Marcantel, to ovarian cancer. At this time, Dr. Marcantel, his wife Kelly M. McCarthy, and Thomas W. Meury decided to create the M Family Foundation to help women battling ovarian cancer and children battling pediatric brain cancer. 

Our Mission & Vision
At the M Family Foundation, our goal is to raise awareness, increase education, and provide financial support to women battling ovarian cancer and children battling pediatric cancer.

“Our family has been personally and deeply affected by Ovarian and Pediatric Cancers. We have been inspired to fight alongside those still fighting and mourn alongside those mourning. We believe that where much is given, much is required. We know that we accomplish the most by working together with our friends, family, and community by serving those in need with kindness, charity, and hope.”

David A. Marcantel, MD, Kelly M. McCarthy, and Thomas W. Meury

– M Family Foundation Founders

Head over to the M Family Foundation website by clicking HERE!!

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Symptoms

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Signs and Symptoms of Ovarian Cancer:

Ovarian cancer may cause several signs and symptoms. Women are more likely to have symptoms if the disease has spread, but even early-stage ovarian cancer can cause them. The most common symptoms include:

  • Bloating
  • Pelvic or abdominal (belly) pain
  • Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
  • Urinary symptoms such as urgency (constantly feeling like you have to go) or frequency (having to go often)

These symptoms are also commonly caused by benign (non-cancerous) diseases and by cancers of other organs. When they are caused by ovarian cancer, they tend to be persistent and a change from normal − for example, they occur more often or are more severe. These symptoms are more likely to be caused by other conditions, and most of them occur just about as often in women who don’t have ovarian cancer. But if you have these symptoms more than 12 times a month, see your doctor so the problem can be found and treated if necessary.

Other symptoms of ovarian cancer can include:

  • Fatigue (extreme tiredness)
  • Upset stomach
  • Back pain
  • Pain during sex
  • Constipation
  • Changes in a woman’s period, such as heavier bleeding than normal or irregular bleeding
  • Abdominal (belly) swelling with weight loss

Diagnosis

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See a doctor if you have symptoms.

Early cancers of the ovaries often cause no symptoms. Other, less severe conditions can also cause symptoms of ovarian cancer. When ovarian cancer is considered a possible cause of these symptoms, it has already spread. Also, some types of ovarian cancer can rapidly spread to nearby organs. Prompt attention to symptoms may improve the odds of early diagnosis and successful treatment. If you have symptoms similar to those of ovarian cancer almost daily for more than a few weeks, report them to your health care professional.

Screening tests for ovarian cancer:

Screening tests and exams are used to detect a disease, like cancer, in people who don’t have any symptoms. (For example, a mammogram can often detect breast cancer in its earliest stage, even before a doctor can feel cancer.)

There has been a lot of research to develop a screening test for ovarian cancer, but there hasn’t been much success. The two tests used most often (in addition to a complete pelvic exam) to screen for ovarian cancer are transvaginal ultrasound (TVUS) and the CA-125 blood test.

TVUS (transvaginal ultrasound) tests sound waves to examine the uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries by putting an ultrasound wand into the vagina. It can help find a mass (tumor) in the ovary, but it can’t tell whether it is benign. When used for screening, most of the groups found are not cancer.

The CA-125 blood test measures the amount of a protein called CA-125 in the blood. Many women with ovarian cancer have high levels of CA-125. This test can be helpful as a tumor marker to help guide treatment in women with ovarian cancer because a high level often goes down if treatment is working. But checking CA-125 levels is not as valuable as a screening test for ovarian cancer. The problem with using this test for ovarian cancer screening is that high levels of CA-125 are more often caused by common conditions such as endometriosis and pelvic inflammatory disease. Also, not everyone who has ovarian cancer has an elevated CA-125 level. When someone not known to have ovarian cancer has an abnormal CA-125 level, the doctor might repeat the test (to make sure the result is correct) and consider ordering a transvaginal ultrasound test.

Better ways to screen for ovarian cancer are being researched, but currently, there are no reliable screening tests. Hopefully, improvements in screening tests will eventually lead to fewer deaths from ovarian cancer.

Treatment

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Common approaches:

Typically, treatment plans are based on the type of ovarian cancer, its stage, and any special situations. Most women with ovarian cancer will have surgery to remove the tumor. Depending on the type of ovarian cancer and how advanced it is, you might need other types of treatment as well, either before or after surgery, or sometimes both.

Local treatments:

Some treatments are local, meaning they treat the tumor without affecting the rest of the body.

Types of local therapy used for ovarian cancer include:

  • Surgery for Ovarian Cancer
  • Radiation Therapy for Ovarian Cancer

Systemic treatments:

Drugs used to treat ovarian cancer are considered systemic therapies because they can reach cancer cells almost anywhere in the body. They can be given by mouth or put directly into the bloodstream.

Depending on the type of ovarian cancer, different types of drug treatment might be used, including:

  • Chemotherapy for Ovarian Cancer
  • Hormone Therapy for Ovarian Cancer
  • Targeted Therapy for Ovarian Cancer

Your treatment plan will depend on many factors, including your overall health, personal preferences, and whether you plan to have children. Age alone isn’t a determining factor since several studies have shown that older women tolerate ovarian cancer treatments well.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also essential to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.

It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion if time permits. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

Uterine Cancer

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Cancers of the uterus and endometrium:

Sarcomas are cancers that start from muscle, fat, bone, and fibrous tissue (the material that forms tendons and ligaments). Cancers that start in epithelial cells, line or cover most organs, are called carcinomas.

More than 95% of uterine cancers are carcinomas. If a carcinoma starts in the cervix, it is a cervical carcinoma. Carcinomas starting in the endometrium, the lining of the uterus, are endometrial carcinomas. These types of cancer are covered Cervical Cancer and Endometrial (Uterine) Cancer.

Another type of cancer that starts in the uterus is called carcinosarcoma. These cancers begin in the endometrium and have both sarcomas and carcinomas. These cancers are also known as malignant mixed mesodermal tumors or malignant mixed Mullerian tumors.

Types of uterine sarcoma:

Most uterine sarcomas are put into categories based on the type of cell they start in:

Uterine leiomyosarcoma (LMS):

These tumors start in the muscular wall of the uterus (the myometrium). They are by far the most common type. These tumors can grow and spread quickly.

Endometrial stromal sarcoma (ESS):

ESS tumors start in the supporting connective tissue (stroma) of the uterus lining (the endometrium). These cancers are rare.

If the tumor is low grade, the cancer cells do not look very different from normal cells, and the tumor tends to grow slowly. Women with low-grade ESS have a better outlook (prognosis) than women with uterine sarcomas.

High-grade ESS means the cancer cells look very different from normal cells, and the tumor is growing quickly. This type of ESS is most often found when the tumor is already large and has spread. These tumors are hard to treat.

Undifferentiated sarcoma:

These cancers may start in the endometrium or the myometrium. They grow and spread quickly and tend to have a poor outlook.

Benign uterine tumors:

Several types of benign (not cancer) tumors can also develop in the connective tissues of the uterus. These tumors, such as leiomyomas, adenofibromas, and adenomyomas, are also known as fibroid tumors. Most of the time, these tumors don’t need to be treated. But treatment may be needed if they start causing problems, like pelvic pain, heavy bleeding, frequent urination, or constipation. In some cases, the tumor is removed, leaving the rest of the uterus. This surgery is called a myomectomy. Some treatments destroy these benign tumors without surgery by blocking the blood vessels that feed them, killing the tumor cells with electric current, or freezing them with liquid nitrogen. Another option is to remove the entire uterus. This surgery is called a hysterectomy.

 

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Symptoms

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Signs and Symptoms of Uterine Sarcomas:

In most cases, the possibility of uterine sarcoma is suggested by specific symptoms. These symptoms don’t always mean that a woman has uterine sarcoma. They are more often caused by something else, such as non-cancerous changes in the uterus (like fibroids), pre-cancerous overgrowth of the endometrium, or endometrial carcinoma. Still, if you’re having these problems, see a doctor to find the cause and get any needed treatment.

  • Abnormal bleeding or spotting
    About 85% of patients diagnosed with uterine sarcomas have irregular vaginal bleeding (between periods) or bleeding after menopause. This symptom is more often caused by cancer, but it’s essential to have any irregular bleeding checked right away. If you’ve gone through menopause, any vaginal bleeding or spotting is abnormal, and it should be reported to your health care professional right away.
  • Vaginal discharge
    About 10% of women with uterine sarcomas have a vaginal discharge with no visible blood. A discharge is most often a sign of infection or another non-cancer condition, but it also can be a sign of cancer. Any abnormal discharge should be checked by a health care professional.
  • Pelvic pain and a mass
    When they’re first diagnosed, about 10% of women with uterine sarcomas have pelvic pain and a mass (tumor) that can be felt. You or your doctor may feel the mass in your uterus or feel fullness in your belly and pelvis.

Diagnosis

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How Is Uterine Sarcoma Diagnosed?

Many uterine sarcomas are diagnosed during or after surgery for what’s thought to be benign fibroid tumors.

Some are diagnosed because of symptoms. If you have symptoms of uterine cancer, the first step is to see your doctor.

Your doctor will ask you about your personal and family medical history, examine you, and might order some tests. You also will be asked about any symptoms, risk factors, and other health problems. A general physical and a pelvic exam will be done. An ultrasound may be used to look at the inside of your uterus.

If your doctor suspects cancer, you may be referred to a gynecologist or a doctor specializing in cancers of the female reproductive system (called a gynecologic oncologist).

Sampling and testing endometrial tissue:

To find the cause of abnormal uterine bleeding, a small piece of tissue (a sample) will be taken from the lining of the uterus and looked at with a microscope. The tissue can be removed by endometrial biopsy or by dilation and curettage (D&C). Often a hysteroscopy is done with the D&C..

These procedures let the doctor see if the bleeding is caused by a endometrial overgrowth that’s not cancer (hyperplasia), endometrial carcinoma, uterine sarcoma, or some other problem. The tests will find many endometrial stromal sarcomas and undifferentiated sarcomas, but less than half of leiomyosarcomas (abbreviated LMSs). These tests don’t find all LMSs because these cancers start in the muscle layer of the wall of the uterus. To be found by an endometrial biopsy or D&C, they need to have spread from the middle (muscle) layer to the inner lining of the uterus. In most cases, the only way to diagnose a LMS by removing it with surgery.

Endometrial biopsy:

In this procedure, a very thin, flexible tube is put into the uterus through the cervix. Then, using suction, a small amount of the uterine lining (endometrium) is taken out through the tube. Suctioning takes about a minute or less. The discomfort is a lot like severe menstrual cramps and can be helped by taking a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen an hour before the biopsy. This procedure is usually done in the doctor’s office.

Hysteroscopy:

This procedure allows doctors to look inside the uterus. A tiny telescope is put into the uterus through the cervix. To get a better view, the uterus is then expanded by filling it with salt water (saline). This lets the doctor see and take out anything abnormal, such as a cancer or a polyp. This procedure is usually done with the patient awake, using local anesthesia (numbing medicine). But if a polyp or mass has to be removed, general or regional anesthesia is sometimes used. (General anesthesia means you are given drugs that put you into a deep sleep and keep you from feeling pain. Regional anesthesia is a nerve block that numbs a larger area of the body).

 

Treatment

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Common treatment approaches:

A combination of treatments may be used to treat uterine sarcoma. The choice of treatment depends mainly on the type and stage of your cancer. Other factors might include your age, overall health, whether you plan to have children, and personal preferences.

Most women with uterine sarcoma have surgery to remove the cancer. Radiation, chemotherapy, and hormone therapy are sometimes used to help lower the risk of cancer coming back after surgery. These treatments may also be used for cancers that cannot be removed with surgery or when a woman can’t have surgery because of other health problems.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options and their possible side effects with your family and your treatment team to make the choice that best fits your needs. If there’s anything you don’t understand, ask to explain it.
It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion if time permits. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

Vaginal Cancer

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What Is Vaginal Cancer?

Cancer starts when cells in the body begin to grow out of control. Cells in nearly any part of the body can become cancer and spread to other body areas.

Vaginal Cancer starts in the vagina. There are many different types of vaginal cancer, but the most common is called squamous cell carcinoma. It begins in the lining of the vagina.

Types of vaginal cancer:

Though it’s pretty rare, there are many types of vaginal cancer. Each type forms from a different kind of cell in the vagina.

Squamous cell carcinoma:

Nearly 9 out of 10 cases of vaginal cancer are squamous cell carcinomas. These cancers start in the squamous cells that make up the epithelial lining of the vagina. They’re most common in the upper part of the vagina near the cervix. If not treated, they can grow deeper into and, over time, through the vaginal wall and spread to nearby tissues. They can also apply to other parts of the body, most often the lungs, liver, and bones.

Squamous cell cancers of the vagina often develop slowly. First, some of the normal cells of the vagina get pre-cancerous changes (VAIN). Then some of the pre-cancer cells turn into cancer cells. This process can take many years.

Adenocarcinoma:

Cancers that start in gland cells are called adenocarcinomas. About 1 out of 10 cases of vaginal cancer are adenocarcinomas.

The most common type of vaginal adenocarcinoma is found in women older than 50. Another type, called clear cell adenocarcinoma, is more common in young women exposed to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in utero (when they were in their mother’s womb).

Very rare vaginal cancers:

Melanoma:

Melanomas start in pigment-producing cells that give skin its color. These cancers usually are found on sun-exposed skin parts, but they can also form in the vagina or other internal organs. Fewer than 3 of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are melanomas.

Melanoma tends to affect the lower or outer portion of the vagina. The tumors vary significantly in size, color, and growth pattern. More information on this can be found in Melanoma Skin Cancer.

Sarcoma:

Sarcomas are cancers that start in bones, muscles, or connective tissue cells. Fewer than 3 out of every 100 cases of vaginal cancer are sarcomas. These cancers form deep in the wall of the vagina, not on its surface.

There are several types of sarcomas. Rhabdomyosarcoma is the most common type of sarcoma that affects the vagina. It’s most often found in children and is rare in adults. A sarcoma called leiomyosarcoma is seen more frequently in adults. It tends to occur in women older than 50.

 

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Symptoms

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Signs and Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer:

When vaginal cancer is small and only in the cells lining the vagina, it may not cause symptoms. Invasive vaginal cancer tends to be bigger and has spread into nearby tissues, like deeper into the wall of the vagina. Most women with invasive vaginal cancer have one or more symptoms, such as:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding (often after sex)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • A mass or lump in the vagina that can be felt
  • Pain during sex

Advanced vaginal cancer has spread beyond the vagina to nearby structures and lymph nodes. Symptoms of advanced vaginal cancer may be:

  • Painful urination
  • Constipation
  • Pain in the pelvis or low in the belly
  • Back pain
  • Swelling in the legs

Having these symptoms does not always mean that you have cancer. These symptoms are more likely to be caused by cancer, like an infection. The only way to know what’s causing these problems is to see a health care professional.

If you have any of these symptoms, discuss them immediately with a doctor. The sooner the problem is correctly diagnosed, the sooner you can start treatment, and the better the treatment will work.

Diagnosis

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Tests for Vaginal Cancer:

If you have any of the signs or symptoms of vaginal cancer, you should see a doctor. A Pap test might be done for sure signs and symptoms. More tests will be needed to show abnormal cells or if pelvic exam results are not typical. This may mean referral to a gynecologist (a doctor specializing in the female genital system).

Medical history and physical exam:

The first step is for the doctor to take a complete medical history. Risk factors and symptoms will be discussed. Then your doctor will physically examine you, including a pelvic exam and possibly a Pap test and a vaginal biopsy.

Colposcopy:

If specific symptoms suggest cancer or a Pap test shows abnormal cells, you will need a colposcopy. In this procedure, you lie on the exam table, and a speculum is placed in your vagina to keep it open — just like a pelvic exam. The doctor will use a colposcope to examine the cervix and vagina. The colposcope stays outside the body and has magnifying lenses (like binoculars). When the doctor looks through the colposcope, they can see the vaginal walls and the surface of the cervix closely and clearly. Sometimes a weak solution of acetic acid (much like vinegar) or iodine makes any abnormal areas easier to see. Using a colposcope to look at the vagina is called vaginoscopy.

Colposcopy is no more painful than a regular pelvic exam and can be done safely, even pregnant. A biopsy will be done if an abnormal area is seen on the cervix or vagina. The biopsy can be slightly painful and may cause pelvic cramping.

Biopsy:

Sure, signs and symptoms may strongly suggest vaginal cancer, but other problems can cause many. The only way to be sure that it’s cancer is to do a biopsy. In this procedure, a small piece of tissue from the suspicious area is removed. A doctor specializing in diagnosing diseases with lab tests (a pathologist) will then look at the tissue sample under a microscope to see if cancer or a pre-cancerous condition is present and, if so, what type it is.

Imaging tests:

Imaging tests use x-rays, magnetic fields, sound waves, or radioactive substances to create pictures of the inside of your body. Imaging tests may be done after a diagnosis of vaginal cancer to learn more about cancer and see if it has spread.

Treatment

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Treatments for vaginal pre-cancers:

Some treatments are only used to treat pre-cancers of the vagina (vaginal intraepithelial neoplasia or VAIN).

Many cases of low-grade VAIN will go away on their own, so some doctors will choose to watch them closely without starting treatment. If the area of VAIN doesn’t go away or gets worse, treatment is usually started. Higher grade VAIN is not likely to go away, so treatment is usually started immediately.

Treatments for invasive vaginal cancer:

Invasive vaginal cancer is treated mainly with radiation therapy and surgery. Chemotherapy given along with radiation might be used to treat advanced disease.

Common treatment approaches:

The type of treatment your cancer care team recommends depends on the type of vaginal cancer, how far the cancer has spread, your overall health, and preferences. You may need more than one type of treatment.

Because vaginal cancer is rare, it has been hard to study it well. There are no “standard” treatments that experts agree on. Most experts agree that treatment in a clinical trial should be considered for any type or stage of vaginal cancer. This way, women can get the best treatments available now and even better treatments.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also essential to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.

It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

 

Vulvar Cancer

About

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Vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia:

Most women with vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia (VIN) have no symptoms. When a woman with VIN does have a symptom, it is most often itching that does not go away or get better. An area of VIN may look different from normal vulvar skin. It is often thicker and lighter than the normal skin around it. However, an area of VIN can also appear red, pink, or darker than the surrounding skin.

Because these changes are often caused by other conditions that are not pre-cancerous, some women don’t realize that they might have a severe condition. Some try to treat the problem themselves with over-the-counter remedies. Sometimes doctors might not even recognize the condition at first.

Invasive squamous cell cancer of the vulva:

Almost all women with invasive vulvar cancers will have symptoms. These can include:

  • An area on the vulva that looks different from usual could be lighter or darker than the normal skin around it or look red or pink.
  • A bump or lump, which could be red, pink, or white and could have a wart-like or raw surface or feel rough or thick
  • Thickening of the skin of the vulva
  • Itching
  • Pain or burning
  • Bleeding or discharge not related to the average menstrual period
  • An open sore (especially if it lasts for a month or more)

Verrucous carcinoma, a subtype of invasive squamous cell vulvar cancer, looks like cauliflower-like growths similar to genital warts.

Other non-cancerous conditions more often cause these symptoms. Still, if you have these symptoms, you should have them checked by a doctor or nurse.

Vulvar melanoma:

Patients with vulvar melanoma can have many of the same symptoms as other vulvar cancers, such as:

  • A lump
  • Itching
  • Pain
  • Bleeding or discharge

Most vulvar melanomas are black or dark brown, but they can be white, pink, red, or other colors. They can be found throughout the vulva, but most are in the area around the clitoris or on the labia majora or minora.

Vulvar melanomas can sometimes start in a mole, so a change in a mole that has been present for years can also indicate melanoma.

Bartholin gland cancer:

A distinct mass (lump) on either side of the opening to the vagina can be the sign of a Bartholin gland carcinoma. More often, however, a lump in this area is from a Bartholin gland cyst, which is much more common (and is not cancer).

 

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Symptoms

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What are the signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer?

Signs and symptoms may include itching, burning, inflammation, or pain. Other cancer symptoms include a lump or sore on the vulva, changes in skin color, or a bump in the groin.

Diagnosis

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Can Vulvar Cancer Be Found Early?

Having pelvic exams and knowing any signs and symptoms of vulvar cancer significantly improve the chances of early detection and successful treatment. If you have any of the problems discussed in Symptoms of Vulvar Cancers, you should see a doctor. If the doctor finds anything abnormal during a pelvic examination, you may need more tests to determine what is wrong. This may mean referral to a gynecologist (specialist in the female genital system).

Knowing what to look for can sometimes help with early detection, but it is even better not to wait until symptoms. Get regular well-women exams.

There is no standard screening for this disease.

Biopsy:

Certain signs and symptoms might strongly suggest vulvar cancer, but many can be caused by changes that aren’t cancer. The only way to be sure cancer is present is to do a biopsy. A small piece of tissue from the changing area is removed and examined under a microscope. A pathologist (a doctor specially trained to diagnose diseases with laboratory tests) will look at the tissue sample with a microscope to see if cancer or pre-cancer cells are present and, if so, what type it is.

Treatment

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How is vulvar cancer treated?

Treatment for vulvar cancer depends on its type and stage. Other factors can also help determine the best treatment plan, such as your age, general health, individual circumstances, and preferences.

Surgery often is needed to remove all cancerous tissue. Radiation therapy and chemotherapy also may be needed in addition to surgery.

It’s important to discuss all of your treatment options, including their goals and possible side effects, with your doctors to help make the decision that best fits your needs. It’s also essential to ask questions if there’s anything you’re not sure about.

It is often a good idea to seek a second opinion if time permits. A second opinion can give you more information and help you feel more confident about the treatment plan you choose.

What are BRCA1 and BRCA2 Genes?

BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes, which means that they keep cells from growing too rapidly. Everyone has these genes. Changes or mutations in these genes mean they do not work properly and cells can grow out of control, which can lead to cancer.

How much do BRCA mutations increase the risk of cancer?

The risk of breast cancer for the average American woman is about 12% in her lifetime. Having a BRCA mutation greatly increases the risk. The estimated risk of breast cancer in women with a BRCA mutation is 45–85% by age 70 years.

The risk of ovarian cancer for the average American woman is about 2% in her lifetime. The estimated risk of ovarian cancer in women with a BRCA1 mutation is 39–46% by age 70 years. For women with a BRCA2 mutation, the risk of ovarian cancer by age 70 years is 10–27%.

Women who have a BRCA mutation also have an increased risk of cancer of the fallopian tube, peritoneum, pancreas, and skin (melanoma). Men who have a BRCA mutation have an increased risk of cancer of the breast, prostate, and pancreas.

Why don’t doctors test everyone for BRCA mutations?

BRCA testing is only recommended for people with a high risk of having BRCA mutations. It is important to remember that most cases of breast and ovarian cancer are not caused by gene mutations. If there is a low chance of finding a BRCA mutation, your ob-gyn or other health care professional may not recommend genetic testing.

What is multigene panel testing?

Multigene panel testing is a type of genetic testing that looks for mutations in several genes at once. This is different from single-gene testing, which looks for a mutation in a specific gene. Single-gene testing is often used when a known gene mutation is already in a family. You may consider genetic testing if your personal or family history shows an increased cancer risk.

How can I prevent cancer if I test positive for a gene mutation?

If you test positive for a gene mutation, you can discuss cancer screening and prevention options with your ob-gyn, genetic counselor, or other healthcare professionals. It may be helpful to have earlier or more frequent cancer screening tests to find cancer at an early and more curable stage. Risk reduction steps like medication, surgery, and lifestyle changes also may be recommended.

If I have a gene mutation, should I tell my family?

Having a gene mutation means you can pass the mutation to your children. Your siblings also may have the gene mutation. Although you do not have to tell your family members, sharing the information could be life-saving. With this information, your family members can decide whether to be tested and get cancer screenings early.

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Celebration Obstetrics & Gynecology

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Saturday-Sunday: Closed

Call Toll Free:  (877) 800-0239

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Celebration, FL 34747

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Davenport, FL 33837

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