Everything you need to know about women’s cancers from a gynaecologist

According to the The Foundation for Women’s Cancer every five minutes, someone will be diagnosed with gynaecological cancers including cervical, ovarian, uterine/endometrial, vaginal and vulval, and over 33,000 will die from a gynecological cancer this year.

This is why women’s health brand INTIMINA has asked its gynaecologist expert Dr Shree Datta to answer the most common questions about gynecological cancer symptoms, risk factors, prevention and early detection.

What are gynaecological cancers?

The main cancers in women’s health are cancers of the cervix, womb and ovaries. They can affect young women who have regular periods or those who have gone through the menopause, so don’t assume it only affects women who have gone through the menopause. So to be clear, whilst your overall risk of developing cancer increases with age, the menopause alone doesn’t cause cancer.

How can I minimise the risk of gynaecological cancer developing?

Whilst you cannot change some risk factors (for example, your family history or genetic background), factors such as smoking or being overweight can affect your risk of developing gynaecological cancers, so it’s important to watch your diet and exercise regularly. This can also strengthen your immune system.
Think about if someone in your family has had womb, ovarian, cervical or breast cancer and if this is prominent in your family, speak to your doctor.
Keep a diary of abnormal symptoms such as heavy periods or bleeding in between your periods and make sure you attend when you are called for smear tests. Tests such as cervical smears and mammography are designed to help us detect whether there is cancer and to find it early if so, so make sure you attend. Bring a friend with you if it helps to relax with you, or take some pain relief beforehand.
Don’t forget that practicing safe sex and getting the HPV vaccination if you are eligible can protect you from high risk HPV types which are commonly associated with cervical cancer.

What things should I watch out for?

Make sure your consult your doctor early in case of problems such as abnormal bleeding (in between your periods, after sex or after the menopause) or repeated bouts of abdominal pain.

Watch for unexplained bloating, a change in your appetite or bowel habits. If you lose a significant amount of weight without trying, that may be another reason to consult your doctor. If no cause is found initially, go back to your doctor if symptoms persist or get worse. We may explore things with an ultrasound or blood test.

Any further tips, Dr Shree?

Two things come to mind – don’t forget to self examine your breasts regularly and attend for mammography if you’re called, as well as your smear tests, as some gynaecological cancers can also occur if you have breast changes or breast cancer.

Finally, I appreciate it can be difficult, but speaking to your doctor early may mean that if cancer is diagnosed, it is diagnosed early and treatment may be able to cure it. Don’t wait until your next smear test if you find symptoms develop in between tests, speak to your doctor.

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