Vaginal bleeding that occurs more often or heavier than normal could be a sign of a cancer of the reproductive organs. Women’s reproductive organs include the cervix, vagina, vulva, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries. Each of those organs can develop cancer. These cancers as a group are called gynecologic cancers.
Heavy or frequent bleeding can be common for women during menopause. However, women should always see their doctor if they are having any kind of bleeding that is not typical. Women should also see a doctor if they have pain while urinating or having sex, or if there is pain in the pelvic area at any time.
There are three tests that are used most often to diagnose cancer in the reproductive organs. A pelvic exam lets a doctor feel from both inside and outside the body if there are any growths in the pelvic area.
During a pelvic exam the doctor may or may not do a Pap test. Pap tests help find abnormal cells around the cervix so they can be treated before they turn into cervical cancer. The Pap test can also find other pelvic problems that should be treated.
During a Pap test cells are gently scraped from the cervix and vagina. These cells are looked at under a microscope to see if there are any cell changes. Women should have a Pap test starting three years after becoming sexually active, or at age 21.
An ultrasound can be done by placing a wand into the vagina so the uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes can be seen through pictures. If any area looks abnormal, the doctor may do a biopsy. A biopsy is when samples of tissue are taken and looked at under a microscope to see if any cancer cells or abnormal cells are present.
A pelvic exam and pap test can at times find cell changes that may turn into cancer if not treated. Cancer is often easier to treat if found early. It is important that women visit their primary care doctor or a gynecologist to be checked regularly for signs of cancer.
Women between 18 and 40 should have a pelvic exam every one to three years and women older than 40 should be examined once a year. Pap tests should also be done every one to three years. If you are over 65, talk to your doctor about whether you need a Pap test and how often.
For more information about cervical, ovarian, vulvar, or uterine cancer, follow-up care, or any cancer concern, contact the Holden Comprehensive Cancer Center/Cancer Information Service: