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6 Common Cancers - Gynecologic Cancers Cervical, Endometrial, and Ovarian

Gynecologic Cancers
Cervical, Endometrial, and Ovarian

NCI estimates that endometrial, or uterine, cancer will be diagnosed in an estimated 39,080 American women this year, more than twice the number of women who will be diagnosed with cervical (lower part of the uterus) and ovarian (female reproductive glands) cancers combined. However, in terms of 2007 deaths, ovarian cancer is forecast to kill 15,280 women, while deaths caused by uterine (7,400) and cervical (3,670) cancers are fewer than half that number. That is a combined 26,350 deaths in this country this year from cancers of the female reproductive system. To avoid these cancers, it's important to understand them.

Cervical cancer: The cancer is caused by several types of a virus called human papillomaviruses (HPV). HPV spreads through sexual contact. Most women's bodies are able to fight this infection. But sometimes the virus leads to cancer. You're at higher risk of cervical cancer if you smoke, have many children, have many sex partners, use birth control pills for a long time, or have HIV infection.

Endometrial cancer: Although the exact cause of endometrial cancer is unknown, increased levels of estrogen appear to have a role. Estrogen helps stimulate the buildup of the lining of the uterus.

Ovarian cancer: This cancer usually occurs in women over age 50 but can affect younger women. It causes more deaths than any other cancer of the female reproductive system and is the leading cause of death from gynecologic cancer in the developed world. Its cause is unknown.

Screening and Diagnosis

Among all three of these reproductive-system cancers, early detection is crucial. But detection can be very difficult, especially in the early stages.

Cervical cancer: The cancer may not cause any symptoms at first, but later, you may have pelvic pain or bleeding from the vagina. It usually takes several years for normal cells in the cervix to turn into cancer cells. A test called a Pap smear is very effective in screening for cervical cancer.

Endometrial cancer: A pelvic examination is frequently normal in the early stages of endometrial cancer. Changes in the size, shape, or consistency of the uterus or its surrounding, supporting structures may be seen when the disease is more advanced.

Ovarian cancer: The sooner ovarian cancer is found and treated, the better the chance for recovery. But ovarian cancer is hard to detect early. Many times, women with ovarian cancer have no symptoms or just mild symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage and hard to treat. To date, there is no effective screening regimen for ovarian cancer. More than half of women with ovarian cancer have advanced-stage disease at the time of diagnosis.


Current treatments for all three cancers, especially in advanced stages, include surgery followed by chemotherapy or a combination of chemo and radiation therapies. The exact mix of the cancer-fighting drugs, sometimes called a "cocktail," depends on the particular form and stage of the cancer.

Research: What's New

  • (Cervical) Combination Therapy: There was a major advance in the treatment of cervical cancer when five NCI-sponsored clinical trials showed that patients with advanced cervical cancer who were treated with combination chemo based on the drug cisplatin, together with radiation therapy, survived significantly longer than patients who were treated with radiation therapy alone. The overall results from these trials showed that the risk of death from cervical cancer was decreased by about 30 percent — down to a 50 percent risk of death — with the use of this concurrent "chemoradiation" therapy. In light of these findings, NCI issued a clinical announcement to thousands of physicians stating that strong consideration should be given to adding chemotherapy to radiation therapy in the treatment of invasive cervical cancer.
  • (Cervical) HPV vaccine: Another major advance in the management of cervical cancer was the FDA's approval of a vaccine designed specifically to prevent this disease. The results of several studies have shown that in women who had not already been infected, the approved HPV vaccine was nearly 100 percent effective in preventing precancerous cervical lesions, precancerous vaginal and vulvar lesions, and genital warts caused by infection with the types of human papilloma virus (HPV) targeted by the vaccine.
  • (Ovarian) Combined Treatment: In 2006, NCI announced an advance in the treatment of advanced ovarian cancer. Based on the results of eight clinical trials, NCI encouraged doctors to use a combination of two chemo delivery methods — intravenous (by vein) and intraperitoneal (into the abdomen) — after surgery to remove as much of the ovarian cancer as possible. The combined drug-delivery approach, though it had more side effects, extended overall survival for women with advanced ovarian cancer by about a year compared to intravenous drug delivery alone.

Cancer Tips At Your Fingertips

There is a world of free, trustworthy information about all forms of cancer through the National Institutes of Health, including the National Cancer Institute's Web site ( and the National Library of Medicine's MedlinePlus Web site ( From the latest research news and medical resources to information on clinical trials you might wish to join, make the NIH your one-stop online source of medical information.

Read More "6 Common Cancers" Articles
Lung Cancer / Breast Cancer / Prostate Cancer / Colorectal Cancer / Skin Cancer / Gynecologic Cancers

Spring 2007 Issue: Volume 2 Number 2 Page 13