Did you know September is Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month? The five main gynecologic cancers consist of ovarian, uterine/endometrial, cervical, vaginal and vulvar. According to the Foundation for Women’s Cancer, more than 107,000 women will be diagnosed with a gynecologic cancer this year. That’s why it’s important to screen our patients regularly or recommend genetic testing if family history does in fact point to these gynecologic cancers.
Female gynecologic cancers can be sporadic, meaning, it doesn’t have to run in the family for the cancers to appear. You may not love your annual pap smear, but the quick, non-invasive test allows us to screen for cervical cancer and signs of pre-surgical changes. You also may dread the day of your screening mammogram, but it can help us detect changes to your breasts that cannot be felt with an exam, as well as early changes that are otherwise undetectable. If cancer is identified, our goal is to find it in its earliest stages to have better chances of eliminating it. As such, these screenings, although sometimes uncomfortable for you, can be lifesaving.
Despite the fact most cancers are not inherited, there are some family histories that are concerning for inherited forms of cancer. For examplewhen you visit your doctor, you are asked about your personal and family history for high blood pressure, stroke, diabetes and heart disease AND we also ask about any cancers in your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, siblings and children. If your family history does point to gynecologic cancers, we may recommend early and more frequent screening than the general population or determine you are a candidate for genetic testing.
Genetic testing evaluates your DNA (genetic material), and identifies whether you may have a genetic mutation (change in your DNA) that places you at an increased risk for developing different types of cancer, depending upon which mutation you have. Some mutations include the BRCA mutation that places women at increased risk for breast or ovarian cancer or Lynch syndrome that places one at increased risk for ovarian, uterine and colon cancer. It does not test your cells to see if you currently have cancer or will develop cancer, but instead gives you information on whether you have an increased risk of cancer compared to the general population.
Genetic testing involves counseling about what information the test can provide, the recommendations based on the test results, and the limitations of the test. If you and your physician decide that you are a candidate for testing, your blood is drawn and your results will return in 2-3 weeks. If you test negative it does not mean that you will never develop cancer, but rather you do not have a known inherited mutation that places you at increased risk for developing certain types of cancer. Conversely, if you test positive it also does not mean that you are definitely going to develop cancer, rather you have an elevated risk of developing certain types of cancer (range of 4%-80% risk depending upon the gene and type of cancer). For those that test positive, counseling can be provided and next steps will be discussed.
At the Advanced Gynecologic Surgery Institute, we are dedicated to you as your health advocate. We are here to offer you the best possible support and expertise through our many years of experience. If you want more information regarding hereditary cancer screening and testing, please contact our office: http://drcharlesmiller.com/request-a-consultation/.
To your continued health,
-Dr. Kirsten Sasaki