Dear doctor, can you tell me more about the gynaecological cancers?

19 September 2017

Q: There’s been a lot on the news about gynaecological cancers this month, which has made me worry. Can you tell me more about the different types, symptoms and risk factors?

A: September is Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month and a great opportunity to raise awareness about these poorly understood cancers.

The five gynaecological cancers start in the female reproductive system and have a range of symptoms, many of which are common with other less serious conditions.

Typical symptoms:

  • Cervical cancer: abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pain or pressure, needing to wee a lot
  • Ovarian cancer: abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pain or pressure, abdominal or back pain, continuous bloating, needing to wee a lot
  • Womb cancer: abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, pelvic pain or pressure, needing to wee a lot
  • Vaginal cancer: abnormal vaginal bleeding, abnormal vaginal discharge, needing to wee a lot, lump or growth in the vagina
  • Vulval cancer: itching or burning of vulva, a painful lump or a sore that doesn’t heal

Most gynaecological cancers are found in women over 50 - apart from cervical cancer which is most common between 30 to 45 years of age.

Although it is very rare in women under 25 years, it can occur. The incidence of other gynaecological cancers in women under 50 has been rising. Cervical cancer is the only gynaecological cancer with a national screening programme (the smear test) available to women from their mid-twenties to mid-sixties. 

Endometrial cancer (womb cancer) has recently become the most common gynaecological cancer, largely because the population is getting heavier.

Ovarian cancer is often known as ‘the silent killer’ due to its few non-specific symptoms in the early stages often mistaken for ‘tummy troubles’ or other daily niggles. Screening may suit certain women with a higher than average risk profile.

Vulval cancer is a very rare disease diagnosed in just over 1,000 women in the UK each year whilst vaginal cancer affects around 250 women in the UK.

You could have an increased risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer if there is a history of cancer in your family. If you are concerned about any of the above, I would strongly recommend you see a specialist.

Mr Dirk Brinkmann is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Cancer Surgeon practising at Spire Portsmouth Hospital. 


The content of this article is provided for general information only, and should not be treated as a substitute for the professional medical advice of your doctor or other health care professional.

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