If you’re relatively young and healthy, gynecologic cancers probably aren’t on your radar. But they should be.
This year, more than 80,000 women in the United States will get a gynecologic cancer, such as endometrial (a.k.a. uterine), ovarian or cervical cancer. In general, gynecologic cancers occur more frequently in women after menopause, although they can occur in younger women. While all women should be aware of these symptoms, women in their 40s and older should pay particular attention to their bodies. It’s crucial to know what symptoms to look for, says the American Cancer Society.
Here are ten warning signs you shouldn’t ignore:
1. Abnormal vaginal bleeding. More than 90% of women who get endometrial cancer experience irregular bleeding. For post-menopausal women, any bleeding — including spotting — should be evaluated by a gynecologist. For pre-menopausal women, bleeding between periods, heavy bleeding, or bleeding during intercourse should be evaluated.
2. Unexplained weight loss. If you’ve lost weight by exercising and eating healthy, keep up the good work! But if you haven’t changed your diet or exercise habits and lose over 10 pounds, this could be a sign of cancer.
3. Being tired all the time. Most of us get run-down from juggling a busy week at work, running errands and taking care of our families. But ongoing fatigue that doesn’t get better with rest can be a sign of a bigger problem. If you’re constantly tired for more than two weeks, don’t assume your busy life is the only cause.
4. Vaginal discharge colored with blood. Bloody, dark or smelly discharge is most likely a sign of infection. But it can be a sign of cervical or endometrial cancer, too.
5. Swollen leg. If one of your legs looks or feels swollen for no apparent reason, this may be a sign of advanced cervical cancer. It’s unusual, though, to have this symptom without pain, discharge or other signs of cervical cancer.
6. Feeling full all the time. Trouble eating or always feeling full are also common symptoms of ovarian cancer. Talk to your doctor if unintended changes in your eating habits last for more than two weeks.
7. Pain in the pelvis or abdominal area. If you experience constant pelvic or abdominal pain for more than two weeks, see your doctor.
8. A bloated belly. It’s common to feel bloated after heavy eating or drinking and especially during your menstrual cycle. But if that bloated feeling doesn’t go away after two weeks or when your period is over, see your doctor.
9. Constantly needing bathroom breaks. Beware if you suddenly have to go to the bathroom all the time or need to take urgent or frequent bathroom breaks due to pressure on your bladder. This is typically a symptom of cancer if you also feel full, have abdominal pain, and experience bloating.
10. Persistent indigestion or nausea. Occasionally, persistent indigestion or nausea can be a warning sign of gynecologic cancers. See your doctor if you find yourself feeling queasy more often than usual.
In many cases, these symptoms don’t mean you have cancer. But it’s better to be safe than sorry. See your gynecologist if you have more than one of these symptoms for two weeks or longer.
Karen Lu is a professor in the Department of Gynecologic Oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.
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