Michael Sundborg, M.D.
PINEHURST – According to American Cancer Society estimates, more than 105,000 new cases of gynecological cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.
Most will be uterine corpus cancers (of the endometrial lining) with somewhat lesser numbers of cancers of the ovaries, cervix, vulva and vagina. Signs and symptoms are not the same for every woman, and each gynecologic cancer has its own.
In September, FirstHealth of the Carolinas will join health care systems and providers throughout the country in observing Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Month, an effort to encourage women to pay attention to their body, know what is normal for them and be aware of warning signs that can include:
- Abnormal bleeding or discharge
- Pelvic pain or pressure
- Abdominal or back pain
- Unexpected weight loss
- Persistent bloating
- Changes in bowel or bladder habits
Early detection is critical, according to Matt Sherer, administrative director of FirstHealth Oncology Services.
“Every year, more than 3,000 women in North Carolina are told they have a gynecologic cancer, and almost 1,000 women die from a gynecologic cancer,” he says. “It is important to note that all women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and the risk increases with age. As with most cancers, gynecologic cancers are treatable when found early so women should ensure they get annual check-ups with their gynecologist.”
FirstHealth’s Michael Sundborg, M.D., who is the region’s only gynecologic oncologist, says women should also be aware of the risk factors that can affect their chance of developing gynecological cancer. Especially significant, he adds, is a family history of cancer, particularly ovarian, colon or breast cancer and especially breast cancer in pre-menopausal women.
“Recent scientific studies have discovered approximately 20 additional genes that may place a patient at risk for future ovarian or fallopian tube cancers,” he says. “We are now at a point to search for these genes in the appropriate patient population.”
New treatment therapies, including those offered through clinical trials programs, offer hope to women who have been diagnosed with gynecological cancer, Dr. Sundborg points out.
“Even with advanced cancer, the vast majority – 75 to 80 percent – will respond to therapy,” he says. “It may not be curative, but it is responsive, and it can return the patient to a good quality of life for a significant length of time.”
FirstHealth participates in the Gynecologic Oncology Group, the investigative arm of the National Cancer Institute, for the investigation and treatment of gynecologic cancer.
“There is such a strong will to fight this cancer,” Dr. Sundborg says, “and I think that’s important. We’re not buying months; we’re buying years for patients.”
FirstHealth Cancer Care’s comprehensive cancer services include patient navigation, integrative medicine, nutrition and dietary assistance, stress management, massage therapy, clinical trials and more. For more information, visit www.nccancercare.org.