September is gynaecological cancer month and what better time to return to the blog than now to spread some awareness?
I never intended to take a three-month break from the blog, but there has been a lot to learn about being a freelancer, not the least the ability to say no. But I will share what I have learnt since becoming a freelancer next week. And yes, as of now, I am recommitting myself to weekly posts again, as I have neglected my blog baby for too long. Not to mention my book baby…
But all in good time.
September is gynaecological cancer month
First, a question: can you name all the gynaecological cancers?
Honestly, I could not before my womb cancer diagnosis. Yes, I was vaguely aware of womb and ovarian cancers, and had regular smear tests to check for cervical cancer. But the other two, which are vaginal and vulval cancer, nope, I had not heard of them.
I recently learnt, see I’m still learning more about gynae cancers, that there is a sixth type, too, which is the very rare fallopian tube cancer.
Every year in the UK, there are over 22,000 gynaecological cancer diagnosis.
That’s 60 people in the UK every day getting the news they have cancer. 21 people a die in the UK died from their gynaecological cancer. In Finland, the number of diagnosis per year is about 1,600.
Many of the deaths could be avoided if people were aware of the potential signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers. For example, womb cancer, when diagnosed at stage one, before it has spread outside the womb, has a 90-95% five-year survival rate and over 90% for ovarian cancer.
Far too many people are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread.
When womb cancer is diagnosed at stage three, around 75% of patients survive five years or more. At stage 3, the rate is around 50% and at stage 4 only 15%.
Uterine cancer is the most common gynaecological cancer and the fourth most common cancer in women, with around 10,000 new diagnosis each year. According to the Royal Marsden, incidents of womb cancer have risen by 50% since the early 1990s.
Ovarian cancer is sixth most common with around 7,500 diagnosis per year in the UK. However, more women die from ovarian cancer than womb cancer with over 4,000 yearly deaths from ovarian cancers compared to around 2,500 from womb cancer. The reason for this is that ovarian cancers are harder to detect at an early stage.
The other gynae cancers are less common and not in the top ten cancers in the UK. You can find the full list of the most common cancers here.
What are the common symptoms of gynaecological cancers?
While there are specific symptoms for each gynae cancer, some of the common symptoms include:
- Bleeding between periods, after menopause, or during or after sex
- Pain or pressure in the pelvis
- Changes in toilet habits, such as more frequent need to urinate, constipation, or diarrhoea
- Itching or burning of the vulva, or changes in its colour
- Rash, sores, warts, or ulcers in the vulva
- Pain in the back or stomach
Now, if you have any of these symptoms, while they should be investigated, it doesn’t mean that you have cancer. Many of these symptoms can be caused by other, temporary and less serious things. But it’s good to remember, if in doubt, check it out.
And don’t be like me and put the symptoms down to approaching menopause, or bad posture, or whatever other explanation you might come with. Because, early diagnosis saves lives.
But it is not enough to just educate the people…
We need to educate the healthcare professionals, too. Unfortunately, I have heard far too many times how women, especially younger women, were diagnosed only after the cancer had spread because of medical professionals dismissing the symptoms or misdiagnosing them.
Now, I have the utmost respect to doctors and nurses. They work bloody hard and don’t get nearly enough recognition for what they do. Gone are the days of clap for the NHS of the early pandemic.
However, the idea that gynaecological cancers are something that older women get is still far too common even in the medical field. The fact is, you are never too young.
For example, Bianca (I know she won’t mind me sharing this as she talks about it openly on Instagram), who has a mutation called TP53, was only 11 when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. By the way, if you are on Instagram, follow her, as she is not just an inspirational cancer survivor, but also a talented singer and songwriter.
View this post on Instagram
And while GPs have incredible knowledge of illnesses and diseases, they are not specialist. If you experience any of the symptoms listed above, my advice is to book an appointment with a GP that specialises in women’s health.
I did that and I’m so glad that I did. Instead of just prescribing pills to regulate my abnormal bleeding (yes, that happens far too often), she referred me to get checked out properly.
And if your GP does not refer you to a gynaecologist…
Be Your Own Advocate
Seriously, you know your body and you know what is not normal to you. So, please, don’t take no for an answer, but insist on getting a referral because early diagnosis saves lives!
To finish, here are some links to more information on gynaecological cancer, including some wonderful news on diagnosing womb cancer and an earlier post I wrote on womb cancer symptoms.
Until next time, and as always, thank you for being here.