Cancers found in a woman’s reproductive organs are called gynaecological cancers.
Cancer of the cervix, ovaries, womb or uterus, vulva and vagina are considered gynae cancers. Although these are grouped together, they are extremely varied, each needing different treatment.
Gynaecological cancers make up 10% of all cancer cases in New Zealand.
In more detail
Some gynaecological cancers are very rare and more commonly start in other parts of the body so different treatments are used. For example, although lymphoma may originate in the lymph nodes of the vagina or cervix, the cancer will be treated as for any other lymphoma in the body.
Cervical Cancer forms in tissues of the cervix and is usually slow-growing. There are approximately 180 new diagnoses of cervical cancer in New Zealand each year and are nearly all caused by the human papillomavirus, or HPV.
Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries and can be classified into three types. Epithelial carcinoma makes up 9 out of 10 of ovarian cancers and begins in cells on the outer surface of the ovary or the ‘epithelium’. Germ cell tumours are very uncommon. They develop in the egg-producing cells of the ovaries. Sex-cord stromal cell tumours are rare and develop in the connective tissues.
Vaginal cancer most commonly occurs in the cells that line the surface of the vagina. Cancer can spread from other places in the body, but primary vaginal cancer is rare.
Vulval cancer is also rare. They are most commonly seen on the inner edges of the labia majora and the labia minora. Although it’s rare, vulval cancer may also involve the clitoris, the perineun and the Bartholin glands, the small glands on each side of the vagina that produce lubricating mucus.
Cancer of the womb is often called uterine, or endometrial cancer. It begins in the layer of cells that form the endometrium, which is the lining of the uterus. Other types of cancer can form in the uterus, including uterine sarcoma, but these are rare.