The Thing About Risk

There are some things known to increase the risk of gynecologic cancers. Bottom line, being a woman puts you at risk.

Each month, I co-moderate a twitter discussion for those impacted by gynecologic (GYN) cancers. The blend of participants brings out diverse perspectives and there is always much to learn. January being Cervical Cancer Awareness Month, this year we decided to tackle the topic of risk. We covered the general risk factors for each GYN cancer and focused on specific risks associated with HPV and the known genetic predispositions--it is not just BRCA. We also talked about how women can use all this information about risk.

A point I always come back to is that all women are at risk for GYN cancers. There are some things that increase the risk. For some of the GYN cancers, up to 25 percent have a genetic component. Known factors increasing GYN cancer risk include: age, personal and family cancer history, genetics, reproductive history, obesity, HPV, smoking and DES exposure. But bottom line, being a woman puts you at risk.

I learned a lot in looking at all the GYN cancers together. As a woman and mom to a daughter, this is information I want to know. Yet, there isn't much collated information out there for all the women's cancers. Another thing that stood out to me during my research is the risk of uterine cancer that comes with treatment for breast cancer - ugh. I wonder if this gets its due in discussions pre-treatment.

The Twitter chat transcript and links to all the great resources shared during our GYN Cancer Risk Factors Chat can be found on the #gyncsm community blog.

I consider myself high-risk for cancer due to my family history. This week I had a great conversation with my new OB/GYN about risk and what is recommended for me. I searched and found an OB/GYN who does annual pelvic exams along with annual pap testing. I went on this search after my family practice PA, even prior to the American College of Physicians (ACP) releasing their new guideline, declined to do a pelvic exam since my pap wasn't due for another two years. My new OB/GYN even threw in a rectal exam since there is possible colon cancer in my family. I can look forward to colonoscopies starting next year. (Thankfully my good friend wrote this post putting that in perspective: I Am Not Afraid).

While one of my relatives had genetic counseling and testing done, it was long enough ago that I will probably go to the genetic counselor associated with the new OB/GYN's facility and see where we go from there. I'm also looking into MRI screening versus mammography since I have dense breasts. I don't want fear to control me, but I do seek knowledge.

Maybe the future will bring discovery of a specific gene with specific risks and responses to treatment that can aid decisions about my health. In the meantime, there are certain things in my control and that is where my focus will lie. And that includes vaccinating both my son and daughter for HPV.

If you'd like to join in the #gyncsm monthly discussion, the chat takes place on second Wednesdays at 9 p.m. EST. You can find more information, including tips for those new to Twitter and tweet chats, at