What is Cancer?
Cancer is an overgrowth of cells that causes a tumor. Tumors can be malignant or benign— malignant tumors spread around the body while benign tumors do not. Cancer is dangerous if left untreated. It happens for many different reasons and in many different areas of the body. It can be detected early through a screening process designed to look for abnormal cells.
What is a Cancer Screening?
A screening test is designed to look for cancer (or pre-cancer) in early stages— before any symptoms develop— when it can be most easily treated. Screening tests are also designed to be minimally invasive, meaning you do not have to undergo a big procedure. Cancer screening is sometimes routine for everyone, while other times they are performed if you have specific risk factors for types of cancer.
What Cancer Screenings Can My Gynecologist Perform?
Although your primary physician can help you prevent many types of cancers, your GYN can perform screenings for some cancers that are specific to women. Here are some important screenings to talk to your gynecologist about during an appointment.
Breast cancer is the most common cancer that affects women. During your annual exam, your gynecologist can perform a breast exam to feel for any lumps, enlarged lymph nodes, and look for skin changes. Depending on your age and family history, your gynecologist may recommend imaging studies such as mammogram or ultrasound performed on a regular basis. Occasionally, for women at very high risk, your gynecologist may refer you to a cancer genetic counselor to discuss options for genetic testing.
A Pap smear is a test done to look for abnormal cells on the cervix. HPV testing looks for Human Papilloma Virus, a virus associated with nearly all cancers of the cervix. Fortunately, cervical cancer is very rare, and nearly all abnormal pap tests end up being a false alarm. Based on the results of your Pap smear and HPV testing, your gynecologist may then recommend a colposcopy procedure , which is done to take a closer look at the cervix to find abnormal cells.
Unfortunately, there is no good screening test for ovarian cancer. Although ultrasounds and bloodwork are often cited as screenings for early cancer, these tests very often yield a false alarm, and undergoing a procedure based on these results may cause more harm than good. Based on your family history, your gynecologist may refer you to a cancer genetic counselor, as there are certain genetic disorders that can increase your risk of ovarian cancer. Your gynecologist may also recommend testing if you have symptoms such as bloating, abdominal pain, or changes in appetite.