Dr. Afaf Al Ansari, Senior Consultant Obstetrics/Gynecology at Hamad Medical Corporation’s (HMC) Women’s Wellness and Research Center (WWRC) says a five-minute procedure that can be completed at any primary health care clinic is one of the best precautionary measures for preventing cervical cancer, the most common type of gynecological cancer.
“The best precautionary measure to avoid developing cervical cancer is to have a regular pap smear. This is a five-minute procedure that can be done in any primary health care clinic. Regular screenings, as recommended by the patient’s physician, can significantly help reduce a woman’s risk of developing gynecological cancer and when found early, treatment can be very effective,” said Dr. Al Ansari, who is also the Clinical Lead for the Gynecological and Oncology Multidisciplinary team at WWRC.
According to the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, gynecological cancers account for 19 percent of the 5.1 million estimated new cancer cases diagnosed each year. Any cancer that starts in a woman’s reproductive organs is called gynecological cancer. There are five main types of gynecological cancer: cervical, ovarian, womb, also called uterine or endometrial cancer, vaginal, and vulvar. Cervical cancer is the third most common cancer and is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths among women worldwide. While often grouped together, each type of gynecological cancer is unique, with differing signs, symptoms, and risk factors.
Dr. Al Ansari noted that women can take a number of steps to help reduce their risk of developing gynecological cancer. In addition to regular screenings, she recommends eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking. Smoking increases the risk for a number of cancers, including cervical, ovarian, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
She notes that a woman’s risk of developing gynecological cancer increases with age, with women over the age of 50 being most at risk. The human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, a family history (specifically, having close relatives with ovarian or breast cancer), and obesity are also major risk factors for these cancers.
Dr. Al Ansari says having one or more risk factor does not mean a woman will develop gynecological cancer. She notes it is also possible for a woman to develop gynecological cancer without having any known risk factors. She notes that the signs and symptoms of gynecological cancers can differ, depending on the type of cancer, and that symptoms can also differ for each woman. She says it is important for women to pay attention to their own body and to know what is normal for them so that they can recognize possible warning signs.
“Women should learn to recognize the possible warning signs of gynecological cancers, such as abnormal vaginal bleeding or discharge, pelvic pain or pressure, pain during intercourse, and abdominal or back pain. Other symptoms can include bleeding between menstrual cycles, frequent urination, a loss of appetite, and abdomen swelling or bloating. If a woman has any concerns, she should discuss these with her primary health physician as soon as possible,” says Dr. Al Ansari.