'Gynae Awareness Month' - What are the 5 Gynae Cancers?

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Talking taboos and women’s health

Hot Flush were invited along to an insightful evening at the recent Eve Appeal’s event, ‘Talking Taboos and Women’s Health’, part of their campaign for ‘Gynae Cancer Month’.

A panel discussion hosted by Eve Appeal ambassador and BBC broadcaster, Cherry Healey, focused on menopause and the gynaecological issues that lead to surgery and induced menopause. The stellar line-up included: Dr Louise Newson, the Menopause Doctor; Dr Adeola Olaitan, Consultant Gynaecologist Oncologist at the University College London Hospital; Dr Alison Wright, Vice-President of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists; menopause campaigner Meg Matthews and Michelle Heaton, TV presenter, author and an early menopause spokeswoman.

 
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The aim of the event was to raise both men’s and women’s awareness of the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer, which could help with earlier diagnosis and lead to a better outcome.

Panellists discussed their own experiences of menopause. Michelle Heaton spoke candidly about her personal decision, following the discovery that she carried the BRCA2 gene, to put herself into surgical menopause A hysterectomy and double mastectomy were only part of the rollercoaster journey she’s been on.

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Dr Adeola Olaitan inspired us with her explanation of how gynaecological cancer is preventable, and how women’s personal embarrassment leads to failure to recognise what is, and isn’t, normal. She implored women, who when concerned about gynaecological issues, state their concerns clearly to their GP, so that they don’t miss the window of an early diagnosis – “If women were more aware of their issues they could strive for treatment before they end up with physical and life altering surgery” and being plunged into surgical menopause.

Her take home message was that in order to express themselves clearly, women need to know how their body and anatomy work. We need to know what to look out for in terms of unexpected changes in the vagina or vulva, and be aware of the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers - be body aware!

The reality is that very few women are aware of the five gynaecological cancers, let alone what the signs are. The Eve Appeal have outlined the cancers, signs and symptoms. Here’s a brief summary of what they have to say. (See our link at the end of this piece for more detailed information):

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Womb Cancer

Known by different names, including uterine cancer, or endometrial (affecting the lining of the womb) cancer, it is the fourth most common cancer in women in the UK and the most common of the five gynaecological cancers, with over 9,300 women diagnosed every year in the UK.

The most common symptom of womb cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding – especially for women post menopause who may experience bleeding between periods, or that is unusually heavy. Also increased vaginal discharge that may be blood-stained to a light or dark brown in colour.

(The Eve Appeal note that most people with abnormal bleeding will not have a gynaecological cancer.)

Ovarian Cancer

Cancer of the ovary is most common in post -menopausal women but can affect women of any age.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • increased abdominal size and persistent bloating (not bloating that comes and goes)

  • persistent pelvic and abdominal pain

  • unexplained change in bowel habits

  • difficulty eating and feeling full quickly, or feeling nauseous

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer, a cancer of the cervix (also known as the neck of the womb), can affect women of all ages, but primarily affects women between 30 to 45 years of age.

The symptoms of cervical cancer aren’t always obvious, it may not cause any symptoms at all until it’s reached an advanced stage. Some women do not experience any signs of cervical cancer at all.

This is why it’s so important that you attend all of your cervical screening appointments.

Vulval Cancer

Cancer of the vulva (also called vulvar cancer or vulval cancer) is one of the rarer cancers with just over 1,000 cases diagnosed in the UK each year. Around 80% of vulval cancers are diagnosed in women over 60 but is increasingly being found in younger women.

The vulva (women’s external genitals) includes the soft tissue (lips) surrounding the vagina (labia minora and labia majora) and the clitoris.

Symptoms include:

  • a lasting itch

  • pain or soreness

  • thickened, raised, red, white or dark patches on the skin of the vulva

  • an open sore or growth visible on the skin

  • a mole on the vulva that changes shape or colour

  • a lump or swelling in the vulva

Vaginal Cancer

Diagnosed in just over 250 women in the UK each year, most commonly in women over 60 and is rare in women under 40.

Some of the symptoms include:

  • growths

  • discharge that smells

  • unexpected bleeding between periods of after sex

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To learn more about each of the five gynaecological cancers go to the Eve Appeal site, where they have in depth explanations, signs to look out for and treatment options.

If you visit the Eve Appeal site please sign up to their ‘Put cancer on the curriculum’ campaign, where they are calling on the government for a cancer education programme that tackles taboos from the outset.