Q+A with Dr. Larry Maxwell: Gynecologic Cancers

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1. What are the GYN cancers and why are they so hard to diagnose?

Gynecologic cancers, sometimes referred to as cancers “below the belt,” include uterine (endometrial), cervical, ovarian, vaginal and vulvar. These cancers are extremely difficult to diagnose since most women don’t recognize the symptoms. By the time it’s detected, the disease is already at an advanced stage and survival rates are shockingly low.

GYN cancers have long been ignored, often considered a taboo topic of discussion and underfunded in the medical world. With increasing numbers of women at a greater risk and those in developing countries disproportionately affected, the time is ripe for action.

2. What is the prevalence of GYN cancers?

According to the World Health Organization, GYN cancers account for 16 percent of the 6.6 million estimated new cancer cases each year. They also account for 14 percent of the 3.5 million cancer deaths each year worldwide.

3. What are some of the symptoms of GYN cancers?

The problem with many of the symptoms of GYN cancers is that they are similar to those of other less serious problems. You shouldn’t take any chances. If you have any unusual spotting, bloating, watery discharge or itching, then make an appointment with your doctor. Early detection is the key to fighting these diseases.

4. How can I prevent and/or detect GYN cancer early?

There are a few things you can do to help prevent and detect GYN cancer:

  • Get regular Pap tests and understand your test results.
  • Consider getting the HPV vaccine.
  • Know your normal period flow and talk to your doctor if it changes.
  • Don’t wait to talk to your doctor if you think you have symptoms.
  • Don’t smoke as it increases your chances of developing GYN cancer and other health problems.
  • Use a condom during sex to help prevent HPV infection.

5. What are the different treatment options for GYN cancers?

There are several ways to treat GYN cancers, depending on the kind of cancer and how far it has spread. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Oftentimes, women with a GYN cancer receive more than one type of treatment.

  • Surgery: Doctors remove cancer tissue in an operation.
  • Chemotherapy: Includes using special medicines to shrink or kill the cancer.
  • Radiation: Using high-energy rays to kill the cancer.

6. What type of doctor(s) should I see for these types of treatments?

A gynecologic oncologist is a physician who specializes in diagnosing and treating cancers of a woman’s reproductive organs, like ovarian cancer. Women treated early by a gynecologic oncologist have twice the survival rates of those not treated by a cancer specialist.

7. What is Globe-athon to End Women’s Cancers?

Globe-athon is the only international movement focused on raising awareness and educating women about the prevention, early detection and treatment of all GYN cancers. During the third annual movement this year, Globe-athon awareness and educational events will occur worldwide in September 2015. Currently, leaders in countries from the U.S. to Zambia and beyond are planning their events that will feature education seminars, cancer screenings, walks/runs, Zumba, musical performances and much more. During its second year in 2014, more than 200 cities in 70 countries hosted Globe-athon events.

This week, Globe-athon is bringing together global medical, religious and political leaders during two days of events focused on women’s cancers in New York City. On June 17, Globe-athon will host an interfaith service at the House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, NY with Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry and Dr. Karen S. Daughtry to honor those women who have lost their battle with GYN cancers. During the service, local political leaders, and global medical and religious leaders will sign a commitment to support Globe-athon and help advance its mission of generating GYN cancer awareness among their constituents.

On June 18, Globe-athon will welcome political and medical leaders to a United Nations Symposium to discuss the challenges and potential solutions for fighting cervical cancer, one of the world’s deadliest, yet most preventable cancers. The event will be co-hosted by The Permanent Mission of Grenada to the United Nations, My Sister’s Health Watch and Inova Health System. According to the World Health Organization, cervical cancer is responsible for more than 270,000 deaths annually, 85 percent occurring in developing countries. While the rates of cervical cancer have fallen in the western world over the past 30 years, it has risen in developing countries. This is due to a lack of awareness and limited access to screening and treatment programs.

8. How does Globe-athon help in the fight against GYN cancers?

Globe-athon is a call-to-action for advocacy groups, health care professionals, survivors and the public to unify international efforts toward fostering greater awareness and education about GYN cancer. Awareness is the key. If Globe-athon can make enough noise, then more women will pay attention to what their bodies are trying to tell them and seek medical attention while the disease is still in its early, more treatable stages.

More awareness could also lead to more funding for patient care and for vital research that will enable scientists around the globe to crush cancerous mutations and eventually even prevent cancerous cells from forming.


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Interview with Dr. Larry Maxwell MD