Many may find it difficult to distinguish between cervical cancer and ovarian cancer. While both are gynecologic cancers that begin in the female reproductive tract, there are crucial differences between the two cancers.
Where do cervical cancer and ovarian cancer occur respectively?
Cervical cancer occurs in the cervix, the lower, narrow part of the womb that connects the vagina to the uterus.
Ovarian cancer occurs in the ovaries, which are reproductive organs that produce eggs and the female hormones estrogen and progesterone. Ovarian cancer can also begin in the fallopian tubes or the peritoneum (a thin tissue lining the interior of the abdomen and pelvis).
While both cervical and ovarian cancer can cause abnormal vaginal bleeding and pelvic pain, there are vital differences in other symptoms.
Here are some common symptoms of cervical cancer and ovarian cancer to note:
Symptoms of cervical cancer
- Unusual vaginal discharge with a strong odour or blood
- Pain during sex
- Difficulty urinating or passing stool
- Blood in the urine
Symptoms of ovarian cancer
- Swelling or bloating in the abdomen
- Persistent pain or pressure in the abdomen or pelvis
- Trouble eating or feeling full quickly
- Urinary urgency or frequency
- Change in bowel habits, e.g. frequent constipation or diarrhoea
- Weight loss
- Changes in menstrual period
If you experience any of the above symptoms, please seek advise from a doctor immediately.
Cervical cancer vs ovarian cancer causes
Cervical cancer is primarily caused by genital human papillomavirus (HPV) infections. There are over 40 strains of sexually transmitted HPV that can infect the genital areas of men and women, including the vagina lining, vulva, cervix, anus, and the skin of the penis. Of the 40 HPV strains, there are 13 strains that can lead to cervical cancer. In most cases, HPV infections do not cause any issues and are resolved by the immune system within two years. HPV infections that do not clear up on their own often become long-lasting infections, which increases the risk of developing cervical cancer. A majority of cervical cancer cases are caused by the HPV.
While the cause of ovarian cancer is currently unclear, there are several risk factors. You will be at an increased risk of developing ovarian cancer if you:
- Have hereditary genetic changes, such as mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes
- Are over the age of 40
- Have never given birth, have trouble conceiving or had children after age 35
- Are overweight or obese
- Have a family history of ovarian cancer, breast cancer or colorectal cancer
- Have endometriosis
Cervical cancer is typically diagnosed with a Pap test or HPV test. Additional tests such as biopsies and colposcopies may be performed to confirm the diagnosis.
If ovarian cancer is suspected, the doctor will begin by performing a physical and pelvic examination to check for fluid buildup in the abdomen and lumps in the ovaries. The doctor may also perform additional tests like blood tests, ultrasound, biopsy and laparoscopy.
How to prevent cervical cancer and ovarian cancer
Since HPV infections are a primary cause of cervical cancer, getting the HPV vaccine will be instrumental in lowering the risk of cervical cancer. The HPV vaccine is recommended for both males and females between the ages of 13 and 26. Having regular Pap smear screening is also crucial to identify precancerous or cancerous cells in the cervix before cancer develops.
While there is currently no known way to prevent ovarian cancer, the best way to protect yourself is to go for a regular health screening. Regular check-ups can help to identify any health changes in the early stages, allowing for timely treatment and better outcomes.