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Governor Roy Cooper has proclaimed Sept. 18-25 as Gynecologic Cancer Awareness Week in North Carolina.

Gynecologic cancer is comprised of cancers of a woman’s reproductive organs, including cancer of the cervix, ovary, uterus, vagina, vulva and fallopian tubes.

The American Cancer Society estimates that more than 115,100 new cases of gynecologic cancer will be diagnosed this year in the United States, and it will cause more than 32,800 deaths. In North Carolina, gynecologic cancers caused nearly 11,000 deaths between 2015-2019.

A physician uses a stethoscope while evaluating a patient
UNC Lineberger’s Wendy Brewster, MD, PhD, in the clinic.

“Awareness about gynecologic cancers is important, because, with the exception of cervical cancer, most of these cancers are only detected in the early stage when a patient reports an abnormality,” said UNC Lineberger’s Wendy Brewster, MD, PhD, professor of gynecologic oncology at UNC School of Medicine. “Starting treatment at the earliest stages of the cancer can result in more effective treatment. So, by increasing awareness about these cancers and their symptoms, we may be able to detect – and treat – many of these cancers sooner.”

UNC Lineberger has undertaken several initiatives to further the study and care of gynecologic cancers. Most recently, it established the Endometrial Cancer Center of Excellence in 2021 to support research into the causes, prevention and clinical treatment of endometrial cancer, also known as uterine cancer. Endometrial cancer is one of a just a few cancers in the U.S. that are increasing in both incidence and mortality rates, and it is more lethal when diagnosed in Black women. In North Carolina, Black women are twice as likely as white women to die from endometrial cancer.

Brewster said in addition to detecting the cancers early, increasing funding to support research is key to improving the care of gynecologic cancers. “We need to make greater investments in the study of these cancers, its causes and its treatments. Being able to translate laboratory discoveries into potential benefit in the clinic will be key to providing better and more effective treatments.”