The month of September is designated as Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month. This time is set aside to provide education about these cancers that affect women, including ovarian, cervical, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar cancers.
Genetics have been found to play a role in some forms of gynecologic cancer, particularly ovarian cancer. Genetic testing is available for ovarian and other cancers.
What Genetic Testing Can and Can't Tell You
It's important to realize that no test can definitively tell you that you will or won't develop a particular form of cancer. A genetic test cannot give you a black and white, "Yes" or "No" answer. What genetic testing can tell you is whether or not you have an increased risk of developing certain cancers.
During genetic testing, certain gene mutations are looked for. If these mutations are present, your risk of developing a particular cancer is increased.
The results of genetic testing can be a powerful tool. You may not have control over your hereditary risk factors, but there are other risk factors that you can control. Knowing about any genetic links can empower you to reduce your risks in other ways, which may include making healthy choices about diet, weight, sexual activity, and tobacco use.
Hereditary Factors and Ovarian Cancer
We know that having a close relative who was diagnosed with ovarian cancer increases your risk of also developing it. Close relatives include your mother or your sister. Having an aunt or grandmother with ovarian cancer on either your father's or your mother's side can also increase your risk.
Genetic testing for ovarian cancer is important because there is so no simple test to screen for ovarian cancer. If you have close relatives who have had ovarian cancer, you may find genetic testing to be helpful in assessing your particular risk.
Genetics and Other Gynecological Cancers
In gynecological cancers other than ovarian cancer, the role of genetics varies. For some types of cancers, there appears to be little hereditary risk. For others, there does seem to be a genetic component.
Having relatives with uterine, colon, or ovarian cancer puts women at a higher risk for developing uterine/endometrial cancer. If you are at a high risk for developing uterine cancer, let your doctor know. An endometrial biopsy or transvaginal ultrasound may be performed to screen for this type of cancer.
Today, we know that there is not a strong genetic component to cervical cancer. Human papillomavirus, or HPV, causes most cervical cancers. A routine pap smear can detect cervical cancer.
Vaginal and vulvar cancers are very rare forms of gynecological cancers. If you've had cervical cancer in the past, you may have an increased risk for developing vaginal or vulvar cancer. However, genetics do not appear to play a role in either of these cancers.
Pap Smears and Gynecologic Cancers
It is important to know that a pap smear only screens for cervical cancer. Other forms of gynecologic cancer, like ovarian, uterine, vaginal and vulvar cancers, cannot be detected with a pap smear.
Genetic Testing for Ovarian Cancer
At Compass Oncology, we are a leader in personalized cancer-risk reduction. We offer genetic testing for ovarian cancer. Knowing your risk can help you make informed decisions about your healthcare.
When patients choose to have genetic testing done, our clinicians don't just provide you with hard numbers or results you may not understand. We'll sit down with you and help interpret the results for you. You'll walk away feeling confident and more informed of your genetic risks.