Several types of cancer can start in a woman’s reproductive organs and genitals. These cancers are known as gynaecological cancers, and make up about one in 10 of all cancers diagnosed and cancer deaths in Australian women.
The five main types of gynaecological cancers are cervical, ovarian, uterine or endometrial, vaginal and vulvar.
Specialist treatment and support for young people with cancer aged 15-25 is provided by the Youth Cancer Services (YCS) based in major hospitals throughout Australia. Canteen also offers events and other support for young people with cancer.
Types of female reproductive system cancers
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus and is often called the ‘neck of the uterus’. Cervical cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow in the lining of the cervix. It is almost always caused by infection with human papilloma virus (HPV).
The most common type of cervical cancer is squamous cell carcinoma.
The rate of cervical cancer has decreased due to the National Cervical Screening Program and HPV vaccination.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer.
Ovarian cancer starts when abnormal cells grow in one or both of the ovaries, small glands on either side of the uterus that produce eggs and hormones.
Ovarian cancer is the leading cause of death from gynaecological cancer in Australia.
There are three main types of ovarian cancer, named after the types of ovarian cells in which they develop:
- Epithelial: by far the most common, it starts in the cells covering the ovary
- Germ cell: starts in the cells that turn into eggs
- Stromal: starts in the cells inside the ovary that produce hormones
Germ cell ovarian cancer is a rare type of ovarian cancer that mainly affects teenage girls and young women.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of ovarian cancer.
Uterine or endometrial cancer
The endometrium is the lining of the uterus or womb. Uterine cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer in Australia.
Anyone who has a uterus can get uterine cancer. It can affect women, transgender men and intersex people.
There are two main types of uterine cancer:
- Endometrial cancer: by far the most common (around 95% of cases), which starts in the endometrium
- Uterine sarcoma: starts in the muscle layers of the uterus
Uterine cancer is often referred to as endometrial cancer because this is the most common form.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of uterine cancer.
The vagina is the muscular tube that extends from the opening of the womb (cervix) to the folds of skin (vulva) between a woman’s legs.
Vaginal cancer is one of the rarer gynaecological cancers, making up just 2% of cases.
Vaginal cancer can be primary or secondary:
- Primary: a rare cancer that starts in the vagina
- Secondary: cancer that starts in another part of the body (commonly the cervix or vulva) and spreads (metastasises) to the vagina
Most vaginal cancer is secondary cancer.
The most common types of vaginal cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinomas, which start in the cells lining the vagina, and account for around 85%) cases of vaginal cancer
- Adenocarcinoma, which is starts in the glandular cells and accounts for about 5 to 10% of cases. This type of vaginal cancer usually affects women aged under 20
Rarer types of vaginal cancer include melanoma, sarcoma and small cell carcinoma.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of vaginal cancer.
Vulvar cancer is a cancer in any part of the visible sex organs, known collectively as the vulvar. It consists of two outer lips (the labia majora), which are covered in pubic hair and surround two inner lips (the labia minora).
Vulvar cancer most commonly develops in the labia minora, the labia majora and the perineum (skin between the vagina and the anus).
Vulvar cancer is not common, accounting for only 4% of gynaecological cancers.
The most common types of vulvar cancer are:
- Squamous cell carcinoma, which starts in the cells covering the vulvar and accounts for about 90% of cases
- Melanoma, which starts in the pigment cells deeper in the skin and accounts for about 5% of cases
Rarer types of vulvar cancer include sarcoma, adenocarcinoma and basal cell carcinoma.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of vulvar cancer.
Other female reproductive system cancers
Rare types of female reproductive system cancers are:
- Cancer of the Fallopian tubes
- Cancer of the placenta
- Gestational trophoblastic disease, a rare group of cancers that form during early pregnancy
When cancer’s in your life, Canteen is in your corner.
Cancer affects everyone differently. That’s why Canteen provides a wide range of support services to help you overcome the specific challenges you’re dealing with.