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Gynecologic Cancer Overview

Photo of three women smiling.

Five main types of cancer affect a woman's reproductive organs: cervical, ovarian, uterine, vaginal, and vulvar. As a group, they are referred to as gynecologic cancer. (A sixth type of gynecologic cancer is the very rare fallopian tube cancer.)

In 2004,* 73,729 women were told that they had a gynecologic cancer, and 27,049 died from a gynecologic cancer.

CDC is promoting awareness of gynecologic cancer through its national gynecologic cancer awareness campaign, Inside Knowledge, which is helping women get the facts about gynecologic cancer.

What Is Gynecologic Cancer?

Diagram of the female genital tract depicting fallopian tubes, ovaries, uterus, cervix, vagina, and vulva.

Gynecologic cancer is any cancer that starts in a woman's reproductive organs. Cancer is always named for the part of the body where it starts. The five gynecologic cancers begin in different places within a woman's pelvis, which is the area below the stomach and in between the hip bones.

Each gynecologic cancer is unique, with different signs and symptoms, different risk factors (things that may increase your chance of getting a disease), and different prevention strategies. All women are at risk for gynecologic cancers, and risk increases with age. When gynecologic cancers are found early, treatment is most effective.

There is no way to know for sure if you will get a gynecologic cancer. That's why it is important to pay attention to your body and know what is normal for you, so you can recognize the warning signs or symptoms of gynecologic cancer. If you think you have any warning signs, talk to your doctor, nurse, or other health care professional right away. Symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, but the only way to know is to see a doctor.

Learn more about each gynecologic cancer, including any potential warning signs:

  • Cervical cancer begins in the cervix, which is the lower, narrow end of the uterus. (The uterus is also called the womb.)
  • Ovarian cancer begins in the ovaries, which are located on each side of the uterus.
  • Uterine cancer begins in the uterus, the pear-shaped organ in a woman's pelvis where the baby grows when a woman is pregnant.
  • Vaginal cancer begins in the vagina, which is the hollow, tube-like channel between the bottom of the uterus and the outside of the body.
  • Vulvar cancer begins in the vulva, the outer part of the female genital organs.
CDC Podcasts
Women: Be Aware discusses the five main types of gynecologic cancer.

Take Time to Save Your Life explains how Pap tests are performed and when you should be tested.

Pap Tests and Foreign-Born Women explains why they are less likely to get a Pap test and what CDC is doing about it.

Cervical Cancer explains how getting regular Pap tests can save a woman's life.

Prevention and Early Detection

Some gynecologic cancers are caused by human papillomavirus (HPV), a very common sexually transmitted infection. There is a vaccine that protects against the HPV types that most often cause cervical, vaginal, and vulvar cancers. It is recommended for 11- and 12-year-old girls. Ideally, girls should get three doses of this vaccine before their first sexual contact. It also can be given to females who are 13–26 who did not get any or all of the shots when they were younger. If you or someone you care about is in this age range, talk with a doctor about it. Learn more about HPV and the HPV vaccine.

One of the gynecologic cancers—cervical cancer—has a screening test (the Pap test) that can find this cancer early, when treatment can be most effective. The Pap test can also prevent cervical cancer by finding precancers, cell changes on the cervix that might become cervical cancer if they are not treated appropriately. In addition to the Pap test, which is the main test for cervical cancer, there is a test that looks for HPV. It may be used for screening women aged 30 years and older, or at any age for women who have unclear Pap test results. Learn more about getting the Pap and HPV tests to screen for cervical cancer.

There is no simple and reliable way to test for the other gynecologic cancers in women who do not have any signs or symptoms. That is why it is important to know about the cancers, recognize warning signs, and learn what you can do to reduce your risk. Talk with your doctor if you believe that you are at increased risk for gynecologic cancer and ask what you might do to lower your risk.


If your doctor says that you have a gynecologic cancer, ask to be referred to a gynecologic oncologist—a doctor who has been trained to treat cancers of a woman's reproductive system. This doctor will work with you to create a treatment plan.

*The most recent year for which statistics are currently available.
U.S. Cancer Statistics Working Group. United States Cancer Statistics: 2004 Incidence and Mortality. Atlanta (GA): Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and National Cancer Institute; 2007.

Page last reviewed: October 31, 2008
Page last updated: October 31, 2008
Content source: Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion

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