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Don't be embarrassed - let's talk gynaecological cancer and saving lives.

11 September 2017

During the month of September, The Eve Appeal are holding Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month. They are calling on both women and men to overcome any embarrassment in discussing about gynaecological organs or body parts and discuss any issues relating to them which otherwise is often seen as a taboo. 

Their campaign is backed by Ms Desiree Kolomainen, Consultant Gynaecologist and Gynaecological Oncologist at Spire Wellesley Hospital in Southend on Sea, Essex, who said: “Cancers affecting women often present with vague and non-specific symptoms. It is crucial to talk frankly about any symptoms to help in early detection”.  

“Women and men need to be more aware of what is normal because this is the only way they will be able to tell when something is wrong. As with all cases of cancer, the earlier it is detected, the earlier treatment can be implemented and thereby better outcomes can be achieved.” 

More than 21,000* women in the UK are diagnosed each year with gynaecological cancer, yet a survey carried out by The Eve Appeal reveals a large number of them know little about their own anatomy  with nearly half of those surveyed unable to identify the vagina on an anatomical diagram and 45% of women unable to point out the cervix. 

The five cancers categorised as gynaecological are: 

Endometrial cancer or cancer of the womb:  This is a common cancer that affects the female reproductive system. Abnormal vaginal bleeding is the most common symptom so if you have been through the menopause, any vaginal bleeding is considered abnormal. If not then ‘unusual bleeding’ may include bleeding between your periods or your periods becoming heavier than normal. About 8,475 new cases are diagnosed in the UK every year - most in women aged 40 to 74 who have been through the menopause. 

Ovarian cancer: The fifth most common cancer amongst women in the UK with more than 7,000 women diagnosed each year. Because symptoms are not well known or often mistaken for as ‘tummy troubles’, it is usually discovered late when the cancer has spread. 

Cervical cancer: Cancer of the cervix (the entrance to the womb from the vagina) often has no symptoms in its early stages. The incidence of cervical cancer has decreased through the cervical screening programme and with the introduction of HPV vaccination. If you do have symptoms, the most common is unusual vaginal bleeding which can occur after sex, in between periods or after the menopause. Abnormal bleeding does not mean that you definitely have cervical cancer, but it should be investigated by your GP as soon as possible.

Cancer of the vulva:  The vulva is a woman's external genitals including the lips surrounding the vagina (labia minora and majora), the clitoris (sexual organ that helps women reach sexual climax), and the Bartholin's glands (two small glands on each side of the entrance to the vagina). Approximately 1,200 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK and those most affected are women over the age of 65. Symptoms can include a persistent itch, pain, soreness or tenderness in the vulva. You should also look out for raised and thickened patches of skin that can be red, white or dark or any lumps or wart-like growths. 

Vaginal cancer: A rare form of cancer with around 260 new cases diagnosed in the UK each year. The most common symptom of vaginal cancer is abnormal vaginal bleeding although smelly or bloody vaginal discharge, pain during sex or pain when urinating can also be indicators, as can irregular or heavier periods. 

“Far too many women are dismissing the symptoms for too long before going to see their GP.  Unfortunately there is not always a specific symptom and the symptoms could be subtle so they are difficult to spot. That is why it important to know what is right so you can then detect if something is wrong,” said Ms Kolomainen. 

Ms Kolomainen said: “The lack of basic knowledge about the female body or conversations around how the female anatomy works, is extremely worrying – how can we expect women to know what to look out for in terms of unexpected changes in their vagina or vulva or to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a gynaecological cancer, if they’re not aware of how they should look and function. 

“It is worth taking the time to find out what is healthy and what should be checked out by a GP. Hopefully the Awareness Month will help bring these issues into the open and help women – and their partners – to discuss the subject openly.”

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