Gynecological cancers are those that affect the female reproductive system. Certain types (such as cervical cancer) are more common than others, so there tends to be greater awareness about them.
In honor of Gynecological Cancer Awareness Month this September, we’re spreading the word about two lesser-known gynecological cancers: granulosa cell tumors and thecoma.
What Are Granulosa Cell Tumors?
A granulosa cell tumor (GCT) is a type of mass that develops in your ovary. These tumors tend to be slow-growing and can develop at any age, including during childhood, but the average age for diagnosis is 50. GCTs are uncommon, accounting for just 5% of all ovarian tumors.
While GCTs are typically cancerous, they’re often detected early, when treatment outcomes are favorable. Symptoms of GCTs can include abnormal menstrual cycles, including triggering early puberty in young girls or bleeding after menopause. Breast soreness and abdominal swelling may also occur.
Because GCTs develop in your ovaries — the organs responsible for producing estrogen — they often lead to abnormally high estrogen levels. As with many types of cancer, the root cause of GCTs is still largely unknown. Oftentimes, people who develop this cancer have a mutation in a specific gene, FOXL2, which may allow the tumors to develop.
The majority of GCTs are caught and diagnosed when the cancer is contained only in the ovaries (Stage 1). “Typically, treatment involves the removal of the tumor while attempting to keep remaining healthy tissue intact,” says Dr. Lynley Durrett. “Though complete removal of your ovaries may be recommended if you aren’t planning to have children in the future.” For GCTs that have spread beyond the ovaries, further treatment may be recommended, such as radiation, hormone therapy, or chemotherapy.
What Is Thecoma?
Ovarian thecomas are similar to GCTs in that they share several symptoms, and are also considered rare. Representing just .05 to 1% of ovarian tumors, thecomas are masses that develop in your ovaries. Like GCTs, they can cause an increase in estrogen and may lead to abnormal bleeding. The majority of these tumors are diagnosed in postmenopausal women.
While many thecomas are benign (noncancerous), cancerous thecomas can occasionally occur. A fifth of patients diagnosed with a thecoma may also develop endometrial carcinoma, a common form of uterine cancer. For this reason, and to address the uncomfortable symptoms they can produce, thecomas are typically removed using the same approach as GCTs. If you are past childbearing years or don’t wish to become pregnant, your gynecologist may recommend removing your ovaries entirely. If you’re diagnosed with a thecoma and wish to preserve your fertility, removal of the tumor alone may be possible.]
While both of these gynecological cancers are rare, others are less so. Any time you experience unfamiliar symptoms that could indicate a reproductive health issue, such as persistent or uncommon pelvic pain, or abnormal bleeding, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment with one of our providers beyond your regularly scheduled Pap smear. There are many possible causes of these symptoms, and our team can get to the bottom of them through diagnostic measures like blood panels and imaging tests.