What is pelvic cancer? Pelvic cancer refers to a variety of cancers involving the structures and organs in the pelvis. Your pelvic area is the lower portion of the trunk of your body. It contains the pelvic bones, bladder, rectum, and reproductive organs. Pelvic cancers that can affect both sexes include bladder cancer, anal cancer, rectal cancer, chondrosarcoma (cancer of the cartilage), and osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone). Pelvic cancer can also occur from the spread or metastasis of other cancers from different areas of the body. Because the pelvic area contains the reproductive organs, there are pelvic cancers that can affect men and women separately. For men, this includes prostate and testicular cancer. For women, pelvic cancer can include cervical, ovarian, uterine or endometrial, vaginal, and vulvar cancer. Normally, old or damaged cells in your body will stop dividing and die before they can become cancerous. Healthy young cells usually replace these cells. Cancer occurs when old or damaged cells continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. In pelvic cancer, the malignancy or cancer develops in the structures or organs of the pelvic area. Treatment and prognosis of pelvic cancer varies depending on the type of cancer and the stage of advancement; your age, medical history, and coexisting conditions or diseases; and other factors. Treatment may include surgery, radiation therapy, hormone therapy, and chemotherapy. In general, diagnosis and treatment in an early stage of development, before cancer cells have spread, offers the best prognosis for a complete cure. Pelvic cancer can lead to life-threatening complications and can be fatal, especially left undetected and untreated. Seeking regular medical care offers the best chances of discovering pelvic cancer in its earliest, most curable stage, often before symptoms are present. If you have pelvic cancer, following your treatment plan may help reduce your risk of serious complications. What are the symptoms of pelvic cancer? Symptoms of pelvic cancer vary depending on the type of cancer. Symptoms of cervical cancer Cervical cancer is a malignancy of the cervix, the organ that provides an opening between the vagina and the uterus. Generally, cervical cancer produces no symptoms in its earliest stages. Symptoms that may indicate a more advanced stage include the following: Abnormal vaginal bleeding that occurs after sex, after menopause, or between menstrual periods Foul-smelling, bloody or unusual vaginal discharge Lower back pain Pain during sexual intercourse Pelvic pain Periods that are longer or heavier than usual Symptoms of ovarian cancer Ovarian cancer is a malignancy in one or both ovaries. Ovaries contain a woman's eggs and produce female hormones. Generally, ovarian cancer produces no symptoms in its earliest stages. When symptoms do occur, they may mimic symptoms of other diseases and may indicate a more advanced stage. Symptoms may include: Abdominal bloating Constipation Diarrhea Frequent urination or urgent need to urinate Loss of appetite or feeling full quickly after eating a small amount of food Nausea Pelvic pain Symptoms of uterine or endometrial cancer Endometrial cancer is a malignancy of the lining of the uterus, the pear-shaped organ where a fetus grows during pregnancy. The primary symptom of uterine cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding that occurs after menopause, between menstrual periods, or as an excessively heavy menstrual period. Other symptoms may include: Pelvic pain or cramping, similar to menstrual pain Rapidly growing fibroids and a feeling of fullness in the pelvic area Unusual vaginal discharge that is watery and pink, blood-tinged, or brown in color and foul-smelling Symptoms of vaginal and vulvar cancer Vaginal cancer is a malignancy of the vaginal canal. Vulvar cancer is a malignancy of the vulva or outer folds of skin that surround the vaginal opening. Symptoms of these cancers may include: Abnormal vaginal discharge or bleeding Blood in the urine or stool Changes in the color of the vulva Constipation Frequent urination Itching, burning or bleeding vulva Pelvic or abdominal pain, especially with sexual intercourse Sores, lumps or ulcers on the vulva Symptoms of prostate cancer Prostate cancer is a malignancy of the prostate gland, which is part of a man’s reproductive system. It is a walnut-sized gland that surrounds the urethra (tube that carries urine and semen out of the body) inside a man’s pelvis. Symptoms of prostate cancer may include: Blood in the urine or semen Bone pain, which may indicate a more advanced stage of cancer Difficulty starting to urinate or straining to urinate Dribbling or leaking of urine Urine stream that is slow or starts and stops Symptoms of testicular cancer Testicular cancer is a malignancy of the testicles, which are the male reproductive glands located in the scrotum. Symptoms of testicular cancer may include: Enlargement, swelling, or change in the feel of a testicle Growth of breast tissue (gynecomastia) Lump in a testicle Pain in the lower back or lower abdomen Pain, discomfort, or a feeling of heaviness in the scrotum Blood in the stool or bleeding from the anus Changes in bowel habits Itching and discharge from the anus Narrow stool Pain or lumps in the anus Pelvic or abdominal pain Symptoms of anal and rectal cancer Anal cancer is a malignancy of the anus, which is the opening that allows the passage of stool. Rectal cancer is a malignancy of the rectum, the final portion of the large intestine that holds stool for elimination. Symptoms of anal and rectal cancer may include: Blood in the stool or bleeding from the anus Changes in bowel habits Itching and discharge from the anus Narrow stool Pain or lumps in the anus Pelvic or abdominal pain Symptoms of bladder cancer Bladder cancer is a malignancy of the bladder, which is the part of your urinary system that stores urine. Symptoms of bladder cancer may include: Abdominal or pelvic pain or tenderness Blood in the urine Bone pain Fatigue Frequent, urgent or painful urination Incontinence Unexplained weight loss Symptoms of chondrosarcoma and osteosarcoma Chondrosarcoma (cancer of the cartilage) and osteosarcoma (cancer of the bone) are cancers that occur most often in the pelvis, as well as the upper leg and shoulder. The most common symptom of these cancers is bone pain or swelling in the pelvic area. What causes pelvic cancer? Normally cells in your body that are old or damaged will stop dividing and die before they can become cancerous. Healthy young cells usually replace these cells. Pelvic cancer occurs when old or damaged cells to continue to divide and multiply uncontrollably. What causes this to happen is not known for most cancers. Some cancers have more definite causes. For example, certain types of cancers, such as ovarian cancer, have been linked to mutations of specific genes. Cervical cancer is an example of a cancer that is most often caused by a human papillomavirus (HPV) infection. HPV, which can also cause genital warts, is spread through sexual contact and often has no symptoms. HPV has also been linked to vaginal, vulvar and anal cancer. What are the risk factors for pelvic cancer? A number of factors may increase your chances of developing pelvic cancer. Not all people with risk factors will develop pelvic cancer, and some people who do not have risk factors will develop pelvic cancer. Risk factors include: Age older than 50 years Exposure to certain medications, chemicals, or environmental toxins HIV/AIDS or other sexually transmitted diseases Multiple sex partners or sex with a partner who has had multiple sex partners or has been exposed to HPV Presence of breast cancer gene 1 (BRCA1) or breast cancer gene 2 (BRCA2), which also increases the risk of developing breast cancer Radiation treatment in the pelvic area Sexual activity at a young age Smoking Unprotected sex Reducing your risk of pelvic cancer You can lower your risk of pelvic cancer by: Abstaining from sexual activity or practicing safer sex through a mutually monogamous (only one sexual partner) relationship and by using condoms Getting vaccinated with Gardasil or Cervarix, which provides protection from the strains of HPV that can cause many pelvic cancers Having regular screening tests, as recommended by your healthcare provider Performing self-examinations, as recommended by your healthcare provider Quitting smoking How is pelvic cancer treated?Treatment of pelvic cancer begins with seeking regular, routine medical care throughout your life. Regular medical care allows your healthcare provider to best evaluate your risks of developing pelvic cancer and perform routine screening measures, diagnostic testing, and other assessments as needed. These measures greatly increase the chances of detecting pelvic cancer in its earliest, most curable stage. The goal of pelvic cancer treatment is to permanently cure the cancer or to bring about a complete remission of the disease. Remission means that there is no longer any sign of the disease in your body, although it may recur or relapse later. Pelvic cancer treatment plans use a multifaceted approach. They are individualized based on the type and stage of the disease, your age, your medical history, and any coexisting diseases or conditions. Treatment of pelvic cancer may include a combination of the following: Chemotherapy Dietary counseling to help people with cancer maintain their strength and nutritional status Hormone therapy Pain medications Participation in a clinical trial to test promising new therapies and treatments Physical therapy to help strengthen the body, increase alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve functional ability during and after cancer treatment Radiation therapy Surgery to remove any well-defined tumors or only part of the affected organ or structure Surgery to remove the entire organ or structure, nearby lymph nodes, and abdominal tissues as needed Targeted molecular therapy administered for select cancers with specific gene mutations Complementary treatmentsComplementary treatments may help some people to better deal with pelvic cancer and its treatments. These treatments, sometimes referred to as alternative therapies, are used in conjunction with traditional medical treatments. They are not meant to substitute for full medical care. Complementary treatments may include: Acupuncture Massage therapy Yoga Hospice careIf pelvic cancer has progressed to an advanced stage and has become unresponsive to treatment, the goal of treatment shifts from curing the disease to helping the person with cancer live as fully and comfortably as possible. Hospice care involves medically controlling pain and other symptoms, while providing psychological and spiritual support for the patient and family. What are the potential complications of pelvic cancer?Complications of pelvic cancer are life threatening. Complications are caused by the metastasis or spread of the cancer to other tissues and organs, such as the lymph nodes, lungs, liver, and intestines. With time, the spread of cancer interferes with organ function and vital body processes. You can best treat pelvic cancer and lower your risk or delay the development of complications by following the treatment plan you and your healthcare team design specifically for you.