Cancer can occur in pretty much any part of the body you can name when cells grow out of control. The female reproductive system, although one of the most private parts of the body, is no exception.

Uterus

Cancer in the uterus is “both common and, in many cases, curable,” according to Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. The disease can occur in the tissue on the outside of the womb, but most uterine cancers start in its inner lining, in the cells that produce mucus and other fluids.

The Mayo Clinic says those latter cancers, called endometrial cancer, can often be detected early on — increasing the chance for survival — because “it frequently produces abnormal vaginal bleeding, which prompts women to see their doctors.” That abnormal bleeding can be between periods or after menopause. Other symptoms include pelvic pain and an “abnormal, watery or blood-tinged discharge from your vagina.”

Although removing the uterus may stop the cancer while it’s in its early stages, if left untreated it may spread to the cervix, which is the passageway to the vagina, and then to other body parts.

Cervix

Most cervical cancers start in the “thin, flat cells that line the cervix,” according to the National Cancer Institute, and almost all of them can be traced back to long-lasting infections of some human papillomavirus, also known as HPV. It is the most common sexually transmitted disease, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say — “so common that nearly all sexually active men and women get it at some point in their lives.” Usually HPV goes away by itself and does not have negative health consequences, while in some people it can cause cervical cancer or genital warts. But there are vaccines to prevent the virus’ spread.

Like uterine cancers, cervical cancers can often be cured if they are detected early. The cancer may cause abnormal bleeding or discharge, bloating and pressure or pain in the area of the pelvis or back, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says.

Ovaries

Cancers in the two reproductive glands that produce eggs can start in any of the three types of cells found there, according to the American Cancer Society: those on its outer surface, which account for the majority of cases, as well as the cells that produce eggs and the cells in the tissue that holds the ovaries together and produce female hormones. “Most of these tumors are benign (non-cancerous) and never spread beyond the ovary” and can be treated with surgical removal, the group says. And even with malignant tumors, women are more likely to have symptoms like bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, appetite issues and menstrual changes if the cancer spreads to other body parts.

Unfortunately, the American Cancer Society says ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer deaths in women, and the most fatal of the cancers in the reproductive system. “A woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 75,” the group says. “Her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 100.”

 

Fallopian tubes

After the ovaries, the next stop for eggs before the uterus is the fallopian tubes, another body part that can have cancer. The National Cancer Institute links cancer in the tubes to that of the ovaries, also making it one of the deadliest cancers. “These cancers are often found at advanced stages,” reducing the chances of survival, the federal institute says. “This is partly because they may not cause early signs or symptoms and there are no good screening tests for them.”

Vagina

Vaginal cancer starts in this channel between the cervix and the outside of the body, and can cause early symptoms of unusual bleeding or discharge, the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services says. It most often occurs in the thin and flat cells that line it, much like with cervical cancers. Also like cervical cancer, the National Cancer Institute notes, most cases can be linked to HPV. It might be detected with routine pelvic exams and, if found early, is often curable.

Vulva

The vulva is the part of the female body that is often referred to as the vagina, but it is the external part surrounding the vagina, which includes the clitoris. The National Cancer Institute says most vulvar cancers are found in the vaginal lips, the flaps that close in the area, while a few are on the sides of the vaginal opening. Half of cancers in the vulva are linked to HPV.

“Vulvar cancer usually forms slowly over a number of years,” the institute says. “Abnormal cells can grow on the surface of the vulvar skin for a long time” and eventually lead to cancer. Signs of that condition, called vulvar intraepithelial neoplasia, are lumps, bleeding or itching.