Types of Gynecologic Cancers

Cancers affecting the female reproductive system, including the ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, endometrium, peritoneum, uterus, vagina, and vulva, are called gynecologic cancers.

What is a gynecologic cancer?

diagram of female reproductive system, including fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, endometrium, myometrium, cervix, and vagina
Image: National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health

Ovarian cancer is just one of many cancers that affect biological females specifically, which are called gynecologic cancers. Cancers affecting the female reproductive system, including the cervix, fallopian tubes, peritoneum, uterus and uterine endometrium, vagina, vulva, are called gynecologic cancers.

A gynecologic cancer occurs when cells in a part of a woman’s reproductive system grow and divide abnormally. Cells are the building blocks of the tissues that make up the organs of the body. Normal cells divide only to replace worn-out or dying cells. Cancer cells, instead of dying, outlive normal cells, grow abnormally, and form a growth or mass of tissue, called a malignant tumor, which can then spread its cancer cells throughout the body.

A malignant tumor in a woman’s ovaries — in many cases first developing in the fallopian tubes — is called ovarian cancer (further divided into epithelial and non-epithelial types), and one that starts in the tissue lining of the uterus is called endometrial cancer. Cancer that starts in the peritoneum—the thin membrane that lines the abdomen and covers the uterus, bladder, and rectum—shares similarities with epithelial ovarian cancer, and is called primary peritoneal cancer. Cancer that forms in the muscle or other tissues of the uterus is known as uterine sarcoma. A malignant mass that forms on the cervix is called cervical cancer and one that develops on the surface of the vagina is called vaginal cancer. Cancer that develops on a woman’s outer genitals, called the vulva, is referred to as vulvar cancer.

Researchers don’t know what causes most gynecologic cancers, but they have identified certain risk factors for each cancer, as well as factors that can reduce risk. While risk factors may increase the chances of getting a gynecologic cancer, they do not make it inevitable. In most cases, only a small percentage of those with risk factors for a particular cancer will develop the disease.