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February is National Cancer Prevention Awareness Month – here’s what you need to know about the 5 types of gynaecological cancer

More than 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer every year. Here are the symptoms to watch out for…

Written by Dr Charlotte Gooding
Published 08.02.2022

Did you know there are FIVE different types of gynaecological cancer?

More than 21,000 women in the UK are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer every year – which is the equivalent of 58 diagnoses each day.

Anybody that has any reproductive organs (womb, vulva, vagina, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix) is at risk of a gynaecological cancer, and so it is important for everyone to be aware of and report any signs or symptoms to a GP to look after your gynaecological health.

The most important thing is to get women to feel comfortable talking about their bodies and lift the stigma attached to talking about the signs and symptoms of these cancers.

Knowing your ‘normal’ is so important, so that you can spot when things are abnormal and get them checked out by seeing your GP.

 

The 5 different types of gynaecological cancer are:

  1. Womb
  2. Ovarian
  3. Cervical
  4. Vulval
  5. Vaginal

WOMB CANCER

Womb cancer (sometimes described as endometrial cancer) is the fourth most common cancer in females in the UK – making it the most common gynaecological cancer. Overweight or obese people are more likely to develop womb cancer. It is most common post-menopause but can affect anyone with a womb. 1 in 4 people diagnosed with womb cancer are pre-menopause.

Symptoms to watch for are: 

  • Abnormal bleeding – especially after menopause, but also between periods or after sex. This can also be pink/brown/prune coloured discharge or heavier periods

 

 

OVARIAN CANCER

Symptoms of ovarian cancer are often vague and can be confused with other conditions, such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS). This is often why cases are diagnosed late.

Symptoms to watch for are:

  • Persistent bloating
  • Persistent pelvic pain
  • Feeling full easily/difficulty eating
  • Change in bowel habit, such as constipation
  • Needing to pass urine more often

CERVICAL CANCER

Almost all cervical cancers are caused by HPV (Human Papilloma Virus), which is passed on by skin-to-skin sexual contact.

HPV often clears in the body by itself but, if it doesn’t and persists, there is a risk that abnormal cells can develop, which can lead to cancer if left untreated.

This is why it is so important to attend your cervical screening/smear test when called. This screening test is designed to detect HPV and any abnormalities in cells before they develop into cancer so that they can be treated.

More information about cervical screening can be found at Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

Symptoms to watch for are:

  • Bleeding after sex
  • Unpleasant vaginal discharge
  • Bleeding between periods.

 

 

VULVAL CANCER

The vulva is the outer part of the female genitals. It includes the labia majora (outer lips), labia minora (inner lips), the opening of the vagina and the clitoris.

80% of vulval cancers present in women over 60. I strongly recommend self-examination of the vulva – it’s really easy to do using a hand mirror! Remember, everyone’s vulva looks different, so getting to know what is normal for you and reporting anything that doesn’t look or feel right is so important.

Symptoms to watch for are:

  • An itch that doesn’t go away
  • Pain in the vulva
  • A change to the vulval skin colour – such as red or patchy
  • A mole on the vulva which changes shape or colour
  • A lump on the vulva

VAGINAL CANCER

Vaginal cancers are rare; there are less than 300 new cases diagnosed each year.

Symptoms to watch for are:

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding
  • Smelly discharge
  • Pain inside the vagina or during sex
  • A lump/bump in the vagina
  • Persistent itching of the vagina

It’s more likely that these symptoms are related to something like a vaginal infection, but if you do have any of these symptoms it’s always best to see your GP to be checked out.

 

 

THE BOTTOM LINE

Tracking your cycle can be very helpful – there are a number of online apps that you can use so that you can recognise and report any abnormal bleeding. Abnormal bleeding is bleeding that is different for YOU! It can be bleeding after sex, between your periods, post-menopause or heavier bleeding than usual during your period. It can also be brown/red or prune coloured discharge.

There is no such thing as a ‘normal‘ post-menopause period. Any bleeding that occurs in the menopause (12 months after the last period) must be reported to your doctor. There are many reasons why you may have a bleed after the menopause, but the fact is that it could be a key sign of womb, cervical or vaginal cancers so it must be checked out.

It is also important to remember that there are many reasons for abnormal bleeding and for most people it isn’t cancer. But you should always report this to your GP.

 

 

For more information about any of the 5 types of gynaecological cancers discussed here, there are some great sources of accurate and accessible information on The Eve Appeal’s website, Facebookand Instagram channels

Dr Charlotte Gooding
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