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 that starts in a woman’s ovaries is called ovarian cancer, and one that starts in the tissue lining of the uterus is called endometrial 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. And cancer that starts in the peritoneum—the thin membrane that lines the abdomen and covers the uterus, bladder, and rectum—is called primary peritoneal cancer.
Researchers don’t know what causes most gynecologic cancers but they have identified certain risk factors. Risk factors may increase a woman’s chance of getting a gynecologic cancer, but they do not make it inevitable. Only a small percentage of women with risk factors for a particular cancer will develop the disease.
Below is a list of the most common gynecologic cancers. Click on the link to learn more.