Gynaecological oncology

The term gynaecological oncology refers to the study and treatment of tumours that affect the female reproductive organs.

Oncological gynaecologists are specialists in Obstetrics and Gynaecology who have then received training in the prevention and treatment of cancer, principally cancer that affects the uterus, ovaries, vulva and cervix.

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What is cancer?

The normal cells in our body have a regular life cycle: they are formed, carry out their functions and die in a programmed way (which we call apoptosis). Healthy bodies produce as many new cells as those that die, and this keeps a balance.

Cancer cells do not die in a programmed way, but rather continue dividing and adding onto themselves in what we call a lump or tumour. This tumour may also invade the surrounding tissue (infiltration) and travel to other distant parts of the body (metastasis).

What risk factors must be taken into account?

In the case of gynaecological cancer, the factors that must always be assessed are the patient's family history (history of cancer), hormone replacement therapy received during the menopause, smoking, not having had children or having more than five children, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, obesity, having taken oral contraceptives for over five years and having had other types of cancer.

What are the most common symptoms?

The symptoms depend on the location of the tumour, but the following tend to be common symptoms: abdominal and/or pelvic pain, urinary problems, pain during sexual intercourse, abundant vaginal secretion of abnormal characteristics, changes in menstruation, and spotting between periods or during the menopause.

Other less common symptoms include nausea, constipation, flatulence, abdominal distension, and tiredness.

What is the most appropriate treatment?

Gynaecological cancers have three treatment options, which can be carried out separately or combined: radiotherapy, chemotherapy and surgery.

The best treatment option must take into account, among other things, the location and type of tumour, the age of the patient and her general condition, and the study of the extent of the tumour within the body.

General considerations

The gynaecological oncologist must take many factors into account when designing a treatment for gynaecological cancer. The pros (benefits) and cons (side effects) of each treatment must be weighed up. Finally, it should not be forgotten that gynaecological cancer increasingly affects younger women, whose future options for reproductive life could be affected by the treatments implemented.