Cancer can start in any part of the male or female reproductive system. Research has led to better diagnoses, treatments, and a lower chance of death for many of these cancers. Still, it's important to know about them and the symptoms they can cause so you can get help right away. Finding and treating cancer early—when it's small and hasn't spread—gives you the best outcomes.
Most testicular cancers are found by men on their own. Talk with your doctor about whether you should do a testicular self-exam and how often you should do it. Some doctors recommend that all men do monthly testicular self-exams after puberty. If you do one, the best time is during or right after a shower or bath, when the skin of the scrotum is relaxed. Men should see a doctor if they notice any of the following symptoms:
These symptoms can be caused by cancer or by other conditions. It's important to see a doctor to find out the cause of any symptoms.
Prostate cancer seldom causes symptoms when it's small. This is why it's important for men to talk with a healthcare provider about their risk and decide if screening is right for them. Screening tests can help find cancer before it starts causing symptoms. One or both of these screening tests may be used to check for prostate problems: a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a blood test for prostate-specific antigen (PSA). Symptoms of later-stage prostate cancer include:
Many of these symptoms can be caused by other, less serious health problems, such as prostate swelling or an infection. Still, a man who has symptoms like these should see a healthcare provider to be sure they are not caused by prostate cancer.
Factors that put a woman at risk of developing ovarian cancer are:
Hormone therapy (HT) may also raise risk. Some studies suggest that women who use HT after menopause may have a slightly increased risk. Having one or more of the risk factors mentioned here does not mean that a woman is sure to develop ovarian cancer, but the chance may be higher than average.
Other symptoms include:
These symptoms are common and more often related to less serious health problems. If they happen often or are getting worse, a woman should see a healthcare provider so the problem can be found and, if needed, treated.
Endometrial cancer is most common in women older than 50. Other risk factors for this cancer are:
Other risk factors are related to how long a woman's body is exposed to estrogen. Women who have no children, start their periods (menstruation) at a very young age, or enter menopause late in life are exposed to estrogen longer and have a higher risk.
Francesca Torriani, MD
Medical Director, Infection Prevention and Clinical Epidemiology
UC San Diego | School of Medicine