Cancers of the reproductive organs
Cancer can occur in any of the reproductive organs - cervix, ovary, uterus, vagina and vulva. It can also occur in the prostate, testicles and penis. These organs can be found inside and outside the body.
Specialist treatment and support for young people diagnosed with a reproductive system cancer
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 cancers of the gynaecological reproductive organs
The cervix is the lower part of the uterus (womb) 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 papillomavirus (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.
Anyone with a cervix and aged between 25 and 74 should have a cervical screening test every 5 years. To find out more about screening, visit cervicalscreening.org.au and canwe.org.au.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer.
The ovaries are two small glands on either side of the uterus, close to the ends of the fallopian tubes. They produce eggs and hormones. Ovarian cancer starts when abnormal cells grow in one or both of the ovaries
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 younger people.
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 occurs when cells in any part of the uterus become abnormal.
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 type.
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).
Vaginal cancer is a rare type of cancer, making up just 2% of cancers in the reproductive organs.
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 carcinoma, which starts in the cells lining the vagina, and account for about 85% cases of vaginal cancer
- Adenocarcinoma, which starts in the glandular cells, and accounts for about 5 to 10% of cases. This type of vaginal cancer usually affects women and people with a vagina 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 external genital area, 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 cancers in the reproductive organs.
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 cancers of the reproductive organs
Rare types of reproductive system cancers include:
- Cancer of the Fallopian tubes
- Cancer of the placenta
- Gestational trophoblastic disease, a rare group of cancers that form during early pregnancy
Prostate, Testicular and Penile cancers
The prostate gland is a reproductive organ that sits at the base of the bladder. It produces most of the fluid that makes up semen, which mixes with the sperm produced by the testicles.
Prostate cancer develops when abnormal cells in the prostate start to grow in an uncontrollable way. ), apart from common skin cancer.
In most cases, it is a slow-growing disease, but sometimes it can grow and spread quickly.
Early, or localised, prostate cancer is where cancer cells are found in the prostate. Most cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed at this stage.
Advanced, or metastatic, prostate cancer is where the cancer spreads beyond the prostate gland to distant organs or the bones.
The most common type of prostate cancer is adenocarcinoma, which develops from the cells that line the prostate gland.
Less common types of cells in the prostate can also develop into prostate cancer. These include:
- Small cell carcinomas
- Neuroendocrine tumours or transitional cell carcinomas
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer.
The testicles are the two small, egg-shaped glands behind the penis that produce sperm.
Testicular cancer is a rare cancer in Australia, but it is the 4th most common cancer in young men and people with testicles.
Most testicular cancers start in the germ cells, the cells that make sperm. These are called germ cell cancers. There are two main types of germ cell cancers:
- Non-seminomas: more common in younger people, usually in their late teens or early 20s
- Seminomas: usually occurs in men and people with testicles aged 25 to 45 and tends to develop more slowly than non-seminoma cancers
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of testicular cancer.
Cancer of the penis is a rare type of cancer, affecting around 150 adult men and people with a penis a year in Australia. It occurs mostly in uncircumcised people.
Visit the Cancer Council website for more information about the causes, symptoms, diagnosis and treatment of penile cancer.
Have you or a loved one been diagnosed with a reproductive system cancer? Get support:
Counselling and individual support
Canteen's counsellors and psychologists are specially trained to understand the challenges that cancer brings. Our counselling services are confidential and completely free.
Events & programs
Connect with other young people who know what you're going through and get some much-needed space away from the daily pressures of living with cancer.
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.