Gwen Ifill was known in life for breaking down barriers in journalism for other women — particularly women of color — and in death she may help women further by raising awareness of endometrial cancer.
PBS announced today that Ifill, the 61-year-old co-anchor of PBS NewsHour, died “following several months of cancer treatment. She was surrounded by loving family and many friends whom we ask that you keep in your thoughts and prayers.”
The longtime journalist had worked for the Washington Post, the New York Times and NBC News, and moderated vice-presidential debates in 2004 and 2008, as well as one for the 2016 Democratic primary, CNN noted. That publication said Ifill “had been battling endometrial cancer while covering this year's presidential election,” after being diagnosed less than a year ago.
Endometrial cancer occurs in the lining of the uterus and is the most common cancer in the female reproductive organ, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center says. And within endometrial cancers, the National Cancer Institute explains, the most common types are those that start in the cells that produce mucus and other fluids. Uterine cancer in general is “both common and, in many cases, curable,” according to Memorial Sloan Kettering.
The Mayo Clinic says 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.”
As it progresses, the cancer will spread from the uterus to the cervix, which is the passageway to the vagina, and then to other body parts nearby like the bladder. In the early stages, the Mayo Clinic explains, removing the uterus often cures the cancer, but beyond that treatments may include chemotherapy and radiation.
While the cause of this cancer in women is not entirely understood, there are several risk factors for the disease. According to the Mayo Clinic, those include hormone imbalances, having more years of menstruation than the average woman, never having been pregnant and obesity. Getting older is also a risk factor, as endometrial cancer most affects postmenopausal women.
Ironically, some studies have suggested that smoking cigarettes decreases the risk of this type of cancer. Reuters has reported that postmenopausal women could experience this benefit, perhaps, because “cigarette smoking exerts an anti-estrogen effect” and endometrial cancer has been linked to exposure to estrogen. However, smoking cigarettes also increases the risk of developing several other cancers, so it may not be the most effective prophylactic.