How Much Do You Know about Gynecologic Cancers? Take Our Quiz

Memorial Sloan Kettering gynecologic surgeon Ginger Gardner, who practices in Manhattan and West Harrison, New York
Summary

September is an important month for women’s health awareness. As the new season and school year get under way, take our quiz to see just how much you know about gynecologic cancers.

It wouldn’t be back-to-school season without a quiz, would it? Since September marks both Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month and Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, we asked MSK gynecologic surgeon Ginger Gardner about some common misconceptions about gynecologic cancers.”

True or false: Postmenopausal bleeding is only a problem if it’s similar to menstrual bleeding in amount or color.

Answer: False

After menopause, “it doesn’t matter if it’s a brown spot, a pink spot, a dot, a smear — it shouldn’t be there,” Dr. Gardner says. If you have any postmenopausal bleeding, head to your doctor as soon as you notice it. It may be a sign of cancer, and cancer is most treatable when it’s caught early. “Sometimes patients will say, ‘It happened once and it went away for a year,’” Dr. Gardner explains. “While it could have been a benign issue, it also means there could have been abnormal cells there a year ago.”

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A Pap smear screens for which of the following gynecologic cancers?

Answer: Cervical Cancer

“A Pap smear does not screen for all gynecologic diseases,” Dr. Gardner says. Its main job is to use a sampling of cells from the cervix to detect the human papillomavirus (HPV) and/or cancerous or precancerous cells. But cancers of the uterus (endometrial cancers) and ovaries begin farther up in the female reproductive tract, in areas that a Pap smear can’t reliably test. We don’t yet have foolproof screening tools for ovarian cancer and uterine cancer, so it’s important to discuss any unusual pelvic pain or irregular vaginal bleeding with your doctor.

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What percentage of women are exposed to HPV over a lifetime?

  • 33%
  • 50%
  • 80%
  • 95%

Answer: 80%

The vast majority of women will be exposed to HPV, which can lead to cervical cancer and head and neck cancers. “Our immune system keeps [HPV] in check, but our immune system changes over a lifetime,” says Dr. Gardner. HPV is commonly diagnosed in a woman’s 30s, but it can show up at any age — even into the golden years. Minimize your risk by practicing safe sex and getting regular Pap smears. 

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What is removed in a hysterectomy?

  • fallopian tubes
  • uterus
  • ovaries
  • all of the above

Answer: uterus

By definition, a hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus. The cervix is part of the uterus, so it’s commonly taken out in a hysterectomy as well. In some cases, the cervix is left intact — what’s referred to as a partial hysterectomy. A hysterectomy does not involve the ovaries. In fact, “you can remove the uterus and still preserve the ovaries — and the hormones they produce — depending on the reason for the hysterectomy procedure,” Dr. Gardner says.

Here are some other terms to know:

  • A surgery to remove one or both ovaries is called an oophorectomy.
  • A surgery that removes one or both fallopian tubes is called a salpingectomy.
  • A surgery that removes an ovary and a fallopian tube is called a salpingo-oophorectomy.
  • A surgery that removes both of each organ is called a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy.

At MSK, most gynecologic surgeries are done minimally invasively, which means that the abdominal incisions are small. This allows for fewer stitches and faster recovery. “To me, every case is a minimally invasive case until proven otherwise,” Dr. Gardner says.

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True or false: Ovarian cancer does not show symptoms.

Answer: False.

Although it’s often referred to as “the silent killer,” ovarian cancer does have symptoms — they’re just nonspecific ones like bloating, cramping, and/or a change in bowel or bladder function. Of course, not every bellyache is a sign of cancer. Dr. Gardner advises women who notice new symptoms that persist or increase over a few weeks to ask their doctor for a pelvic ultrasound, which takes pictures of the ovaries. Besides eating right, exercising, and not smoking, women can slash their risk of ovarian cancer a whopping 50% by taking birth control pills for several years. Check in with your doctor to see if this type of contraception is right for you.

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Comments

Cancer is a dangerous disease and there should be proper awareness regarding this so that maximum patient can be treated in time as it may cause to death.

Will the new MSK in Middletown have an GYN oncology special department. I'm ready for another opinion

Dear Diane, yes -- Dr. Jason Konner (gynecologic medical oncologist) and Dr. Elizabeth Jewel (gynecologic surgeon) will see patients at MSK Monmouth, which is scheduled to be fully up and running in Winter 2016 (https://www.mskcc.org/locations/msk-monmouth). If you would like to make an appointment to consult with one of our physicians sooner, please contact our Physician Referral Service at 800-525-2225. Thank you for reaching out to us.

I am very disappointed MSKCC never mentions vulva cancer nor participates in prevention trials for vulva lichen sclerosis. 60% of those diagnosed with vulva cancer have liven sclerosis.

My husband has been Dx w/ myxoid sarcoma and had first round of chemo. We want to consult MSK. Can they help us?

Sheri, we're sorry to hear about your husband's diagnosis. We do have experts in myxoid sarcoma at MSK, as well as some clinical trials for this type of cancer. If you would like to make an appointment for a consultation, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to https://www.mskcc.org/experience/become-patient/appointment for more information. Thank you for your comment.

fallopian tube cancer with hysterectomy
after reading the above questions
what test(s)should I have as follow up after 5 years

Dear Barbara, we recommend that you discuss your follow-up care with the doctor who performed your surgery. If you are interested in having a consultation at MSK, you can call 800-525-2225 or go to https://www.mskcc.org/experience/become-patient/appointment for more information on making an appointment. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you.

My papa always come back abnormal for past twenty years n biopsies show no sign of cancer had lipp done n still pap abnormal what else can gyn doctors recommend for my problem?

Dear Erlinda, we're sorry to hear that you've experienced this problem. We recommend that you discuss it with your gynecologist. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.

Can a women come to MSKCC for a routine pap exam if she is a 13 year breast cancer survivor?

Dear Maria, if you were an MSK patient for your breast cancer treatment, you can consult with your doctor here to find out whether you should see a specialist. Otherwise, you can arrange to have this done by your regular gynecologist. Thank you for your comment, and best wishes to you.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009. Had bilateral mastectomy, did chemo and tamoxifen for 5-6 years. How long should I follow up with an oncologist.

Dear Traci, we recommend you discuss this with the doctor who treated you, or with another medical professional who is familiar with your case. Thank you for your comment and best wishes to you.

Why on earth do you fail to include Malignant Melanoma as a cancer of the vulva that can spread to the vagina, bladder, anus, rectum, and colon?
I am stunned! It is rare, and it is VERY deadly. In addition, the surgeries are absolutely gruesome. I have visited dermatologists every six months for more than 40 years. As their job REQUIRES, every single dermatologist FAILED to warn me about Melanoma of the genitalia, or even EXAMINE my genitalia. In addition, after seeing NINE gyn-oncologists over the last 15 years for a hysterectomy and then a oophorectomy, not a single one of them bothered to warn me or even check my vulva for "spots." I am an extreme risk for Malignant Melanoma. Four of my siblings have had it. My family & medical history is well documented for each dermatologist & gyn oncologist. For 27 years, I had very visible as well as a multitude of "spots" throughout my labia minor, beneath the clitoral hood, and ON the clitoral hood. I had been told 27 years ago by a gyn at the major, and world-renowned Medical Clinic in Minnesota that the "pigmented spots were very common after childbirth." That was a flat out lie, which I sadly discovered 16 weeks ago. I luckily read about Malignant Melanoma of the vulva in an article about the BRAF gene. I immediately saw a NEW dermatologist who was shocked when he examined me. Within days, I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma by a confocal scan. Last week, I had surgery to remove ALL the pigmented lesions by plastic surgeon who specializes in disorders of the genitalia.

My absolute FURY with the failure of all the dermatologists and gyn oncologists was just reignited as I read this website. I made a bet you, too, (I am hardly shocked) would also NEGLECT to list this particular cancer. It is shamefully indefensible. I have suffered tremendous anguish due to the willful neglect by the medical profession. It has been a long nightmare, to say the least.

Dear GG, we are very sorry to hear about all that you've been through. Our information on melanoma does mention that it can occur in parts of the body that are not exposed to the sun, including the anus and vagina. You can read more here: https://www.mskcc.org/node/39054

Thank you for you sharing your story. Best wishes to you.

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