Update on Gynecologic Cancers in Memory of Gwen Ifill


On Monday, November 14, 2016, PBS NewsHour co-anchor and co-managing editor Gwen Ifill died from uterine (endometrial) cancer.

On November 16, 2016, the NewsHour did a piece on gynecologic cancers consisting of interviews with Dr. Karen Lu, chair of gynecologic oncology at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, and Dr. Angela Marshall, an adviser to the Black Women’s Health Imperative and women’s health specialist in Maryland.

Depending on which organization does the reporting, statistics on gynecologic cancers—uterine, ovarian, and cervical—differ somewhat. The NewsHour provided the following:

  • More than 50,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with uterine cancer each year, and more than 9,300 die from it. (See the November 9, 2016 Post.)*
  • Ovarian cancer is better known. About 20,000 women are diagnosed each year, and more than 14,000 die from it annually.
  • Cervical cancer’s death rate has dropped dramatically. Roughly 12,000 are diagnosed with it annually. More than 4,000 die from it.

As I noted in the November 14, 2016 post about Gwen Ifill’s death, uterine cancer doesn’t get much media attention. (See, for example, the many organizations supporting ovarian cancer here.) Yet according to this report, it is on the rise and is affecting younger women, largely because of obesity. And women of color or in the African-American community may be particularly susceptible to gynecologic cancers.

When asked why gynecologic cancers get less attention—and funding—than breast cancer, both doctors pointed to the embarrassment and stigma attached to the so-called below-the-belt cancers of the uterus, ovaries, and cervix (the opening to the uterus).

Raising awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of uterine and ovarian cancer is particularly important because no adequate screening tests exist for them. Pap tests check the cervix only, but this screening test has likely resulted in a decrease in this form of gynecologic cancer.

Seeking help from a specialist as soon as you notice an abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding, pelvic pain, abdominal bloating, or other unusual symptom is critical to getting an early diagnosis and proper treatment. If you don’t have gynecologic oncologists in your area, then see your regular gynecologist or even your family practitioner, who can refer you to a specialist.

On January 28, 2017, The Patient Path will be doing its first live event to enlighten women about uterine cancer. More information about this will be forthcoming.

Please visit again soon. And in the meantime, take some time to learn more about gynecologic cancers—and help stop them from killing the organs that give us life.

Start with a review of the risk factors.* Then find much more information in my story.

Also see the post of 11/14/16 on Gwen Ifill′s death announcement and her memorial service on 11/20/16.


*The risk factors page is being updated; please check back soon. See the resources listed below for further information.

In Memoriam: Gwen Ifill

1955 – 2016

Gwen Ifill - DIed of Uterine Cancer
Credit: Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images for “Meet The Press”

A Few Uterine Cancer Resources

American Cancer Society – Cancer Facts & Figures 2016 (page 24)

National Cancer Institute – Cancer Stat Facts: Endometrial Cancer 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – Uterine Cancer Statistics (2013)

Cancer Treatment Centers of America – Uterine Cancer Information

Foundation for Women’s Cancer – Uterine Cancer

Nancy Yeary Women’s Cancer Research Foundation – Uterine/Endometrial Cancer

PBS  NewsHour Video on Gynecologic Cancers 

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