Preventing gynecological cancers in women

Quick quiz: Can you name the five types of gynecological cancers?

belowthebelt 300x202 Preventing gynecological cancers in women Photo

Do you know the five types of gynecological cancers?

Answer: Cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar.

While a pap smear at the doctor’s office screens for cervical cancer, detection of the other four types rely on understanding potential gynecologic cancer symptoms and voicing your concerns to your doctor.

Dr. Larry Maxwell, an advisory board chair member for Globe-athon, a global movement to raise awareness about below the belt cancers, says below the belt cancers are often preventable diseases that can be treated, especially when found early.

What should you look for?

“Be on the lookout for abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina, pelvic pain or pressure, abdominal or back pain, bloating, changes in bathroom habits, itching or burning of the vulva or changes in vulva color or skin,” says Dr. Maxwell.  “Don’t ignore your symptoms, tell your doctor.”

Gynecologic cancer impacts women worldwide, accounting for 19 percent of the 5.1 million estimated new cancer cases each year. Early detection is key since the longer it takes to diagnose gynecological cancers, the harder and more expensive the treatment, as well as the greater emotional and physical impact on a women’s personal identity and reproductive future.

“Below the belt cancers are often preventable diseases that can be treated especially when found early,” says Dr. Maxwell. “Through education, awareness, and screening, women can dramatically increase gynecologic cancer prevention.”

Here are some preventative steps to consider:

  • Know your flow: Women should know how long their periods normally last and how heavy they are, if they normally feel full quickly when eating and if their back often hurts. This can help them determine if they need to talk to their doctor about gynecologic cancer risks.
  • Use a condom: Use condoms during sex to protect against HPV, which causes almost all cervical cancers.
  • Quit smoking: Numerous studies have linked smoking and cervical cancer. Current smokers are at a significantly increased risk of developing cervical cancer when compared to those who have never smoked. Risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked per day and the age you started smoking. Smoking also poorly impacts survival in women who have cervical cancer. If you are a smoker, get help from a doctor to stop.
  • Educate Others: Make sure the women in your life are educated on the symptoms of GYN cancers and are getting screened regularly.
  • Get Vaccinated: Women should consider getting the HPV vaccine, which protects against some gynecologic cancers. The vaccines are given as a series of three shots over 6 months to protect against HPV infection and the health problems that the HPV infection can cause.  Men can carry HPV too and should also consider getting vaccinated. 


Larry Maxwell, M.D., FACOG, Department Chair of Obstetrics and Gynecology, Inova Fairfax Hospital, and Globe-athon advisory board chair. Globe-athon is a global movement to raise awareness about below the belt cancers. For more information, visit