Pelvic Cancer--Symptoms and
Treatments|Comprehensive Review
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Last updated March 17, 2017(originally published April 6, 2010)
By Katrina Devine, Contributing Columnist and Susan
Callahan, Health Editor

[Health and fitness articles are reviewed by our team of
Registered Nurses, Certified fitness trainers and other
members of our Editorial Board.]

Vague pains, cramps, twinges, bloating, gas, something odd,
something wrong. These are the terms many women
survivors use to describe pelvic cancer.

Pelvic cancer is a stealthy killer. Because its symptoms can be
so vague, so general, they are often dismissed until the
cancer has progressed too far, and it is too late.  It is always
a bit awkward talking about ‘down there’. Sometimes we put
of going to the doctor to get checked just because we’re a
little bit embarrassed. Sometimes our menstrual cycles are a
little bit odd anyway. But this awkwardness or confusion
could end up in a late diagnosis of a deadly pelvic cancer.

"Pelvic cancer", actually,  is a term used to describe a
number of particular cancers. These cancers include cervical,
ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. Sometimes, these
cancers also are referred to as gynecological cancers.

The most recent statistics that the Centers for Disease
Control can provide are from 2006. They found that 76,515
women in the United States were diagnosed with
gynecological cancers and 27,848 women died from them.
That's a 36% mortality rate.

And don't fall into the trap of thinking that pelvic cancers are
not your concern if you are post-menopausal.  In the case of
one type of pelvic cancer ---  cervical cancer --- 15% of
cases are diagnosed in women over the age of 65, according
San Diego State University's Cancer Training Center.

What Are the Symptoms of Pelvic Cancer?

Knowing the facts could help you recognize something that
is out of the ordinary before it’s too late. The symptoms for
pelvic cancer often mimic the
symptoms for fibroid tumors or
other conditions. So, it is worth your while to learn the
subtle differences.

Not all gynecological cancers are the same and have different
symptoms and different methods of treatment. Below we
have the facts and figures on the main types of pelvic cancer:

Ovarian Cancer:

cancer develops in one or both of a woman's
ovaries. According to the C
enters for Disease Control,
ovarian cancer causes more deaths than any other pelvic
cancer in women. In 2009
, there were 21,550 new cases of
ovarian cancer and 14,600 women died from it.


In 2017, 22,440 women will be diagnosed with ovarian
cancer and 14,080 will die from it,according to the American
Cancer Society. This means that the incidence and death
rates for ovarian cancer have remained steady fro the past 8

Here are the most common symotoms of pelvic cancer, based
on a review of medical research:

The Pap test will not identify ovarian cancer so it is important
to pay attention to the symptoms your body presents. The
CDC recommends that you see a doctor if you experience the
following symptoms everyday for 2 weeks or more:

bloating or gas

- pain in the pelvic area

back pain

- being tired all the time

- heartburn or an upset stomach

- changes in passing urine or difficulty passing urine

-changes in vaginal discharge

-bleeding from the vagina especially after  menopause

What Tests Should You Have to Screen for Pelvic Cancer?

Various tests can be used to detect pelvic cancer.
CA-125 Test. If you have these symptoms and suspect
ovarian cancer then you can ask your doctor to perform a
CA-125 blood test, a rectovaginal pelvic exam or a
transvaginal ultrasound.

The CA-125 is a blood test to determine the level of a certain
protein if present may indicate a tumor. It has been used
with most success in the investigation of ovarian cancer.

However, a University of Texas study completed in 2005
noted that not all cases of ovarian cancer could be detected
using the test but it was useful at detecting early cases.
Therefore it is useful to use the other methods in
conjunction with the CA-125 test.

A rectovaginal exam. A rectovaginal exam can be
conducted by a doctor using her hand to try to detect
abnormalities in the ovaries.

Ultrasound. A transvaginal ultrasound is performed by
inserting a probe into the vagina which transmits sound
waves to a monitor for interpretation.

How Do You Prevent Pelvic Cancer?

The Centers for Disease Control lists 4 factors than can
reduce the instances of ovarian cancer

- using birth control for more than 5 years
- having a hysterectomy or
-getting your tubes tied
-giving birth.

Our team of
Registered Nurses cautions that even after a
hysterectomy, women should continue to have regular  pap
smears for detection of vaginal cancer.  Some women
mistakenly believe that there is no need for pap smears after
a hysterectomy.

Treatments for Pelvic Cancer

Ovarian Cancer:

According to the National Cancer Institute, ovarian cancer  
normally is treated using surgery, radiation therapy or

Surgery  usually entails a full or partial hysterectomy.
Depending on how far the tumor has spread, the surgeon
may only remove one ovary and one fallopian tube. But it is
also possible that it may require a full hysterectomy.

Radiation therapy is available for women in any stage of the
cancer. Rays are concentrated on the area of the tumor to
kill it. This can be performed either externally or internally.
The radiation can affect the ovaries and some women will
stop having a menstrual cycle.

Chemotherapy is usually used in conjunction with
radiotherapy and involves the injection of drugs
intravenously to kill the cancerous cells. (Read more about
ideal diet for chemotherapy patients.)

Cervical Cancer:

According to the Centers for Disease Control, cervical cancer
is the easiest female cancer to prevent. Cervical cancer
begins in the cervix, also known as the birth canal. It is what
connects the uterus to the vagina.

All women are at risk of cervical cancer but most cases
present themselves in women over the age of 30. The
Centers for Disease Control maintains that 6 out 10 cases of
cervical cancer occur in women who have never had a Pap
test or have not been tested in the past 5 years.

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) has been blamed for
causing cases of cervical cancer. HPV is sexually transmitted
and the Centers for Disease Control says that half of sexually
active people will have HPV in their lives but not every case
will develop into cervical cancer.  

The Centers for Disease Control recommends Pap teats
within 3 years of becoming sexually active or starting at 21
whichever happens first. The HPV vaccine is available for
women who are between 9 and 26 years old.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2009, 4,070
women died from cervical cancer .

Symptoms of Cervical Cancer:

Like most of the pelvic cancers, the symptoms of cervical
cancer don’t present themselves until the disease has
progressed very far along. The National Cancer Institute lists
the symptoms as

-abnormal bleeding or discharge from the vagina. Bleeding
may occur during sex or a pelvic exam. Periods may be
heavier than usual or bleeding may occur after going
through menopause.

-Pain during sex may also indicate cervical cancer.

However, these symptoms are vague. They can also be the
symptoms of something else, so it is very important that you
seek a proper disgnosis from a doctor.

The most common test for  diagnosing cervical cancer is the
Pap smear. The Pap smear involves taking swabs of tissue
from the cervix and examining them under a microscope for
the oresence of cancerous cells. If the microscopic test is
abnormal, further investigations are completed and
sometimes a biopsy is needed.

Prevention of Cervical Cancer:

The Centers for Disease Control recommends:

1. Receiving regular Pap tests

2. Stop smoking

3. Use condoms

4. Get the HPV vaccine

5. Limit the number of sexual partners.


According to the National Cancer institute cervical cancer is
normally treated using surgery, radiation therapy or

Surgery is possible for those who have been diagnosed early
and are in stage I or II of the cancer. The surgery normally
removes the entire uterus and cervix in a total hysterectomy.
If a woman has only a small tumor and still hopes to have
children then doctors can remove only parts of the cervix
and vagina.

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy are available for
women in any stage of the cancer.

Uterine Cancer:

Uterine cancer, also known as endometrial cancer, is most
common in post-menopausal women. It occurs in the lining
of the womb.

According to the American Cancer Society, in 2009 around
7,800 women died from uterine cancer.

Symptomsof Uterine Cancer:

According to the National Cancer Institute, the most common
symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal bleeding. It may be
watery and only slightly blood streaked to begin with but the
bleeding intensifies.

Other symptoms include pain during sex and pain in the
pelvic region.

Uterine cancer is usually diagnosed by a pelvic exam where
the doctor feels for abnormalities. A transvaginal ultrasound
can also pick up these abnormalities and then a biopsy must
be done for a definite diagnosis.

Treatments for Uterine Cancer:

The most common treatment for uterine cancer is a full
hysterectomy. This is usually done in conjunction with
radiation treatment.

Vaginal Cancer:

This type of cancer is rarer than other forms but still affects
around 2000 women per year in the U.S. The cancer forms in
the lining of the vaginal canal. According to the American
Cancer Society, in 2009, 770 women died from vaginal

Symptoms of Vaginal Cancer

According to the National Insitutes of Health, vaginal cancer
has similar symptoms to the other pelvic cancers-- abnormal
bleeding and pelvic pain. A lump may also form inside the
vagina that you may be able to feel yourself.

The diagnosis of vaginal cancer is normally by discovery of
abnormal cells in the Pap test or the biopsy of the lump.

Treatment for Vaginal Cancer:

The most common treatment option for vaginal cancer is
radiation therapy and/or chemotherapy.

Vulvar Cancer:

This type of cancer is extremely rare. It forms on the outer
part of the vagina on the vulva.

It normally occurs in older women.

Symptoms of Vulvar Cancer:

The most common symptoms include abnormal bleeding, a
lump on the vulva or itching and tenderness of the area.

Diagnosis is made by examination of cells taken from the

Treatments for Vulvar Cancer:

Again surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy are the most
common treatments.

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