Signs and symptoms of the five gynae cancers

Gynae Cancer Awareness Month

September again, so we’re marking Gynae Cancer Awareness month, a cause that regular readers will know is very close to our hearts here at Sylk. 58 women a day are diagnosed with one of the five gynae cancers, and tragically 21 of those women will die. Those numbers become more shocking every year to us, especially as, if caught early, these cancers can be very treatable and can have high recovery rates. So what’s going on?

Our friends The Eve Appeal believe that the answer lies in knowledge. Quite simply, women don’t understand enough about their bodies, what’s normal for them, or know enough about the signs and symptoms to look out for. So, sadly, by the time the cancers are caught, it can be too advanced to respond to treatment. We’ve previously shared a guide, but we thought it was a good time to share the information again. Let’s get the word out so that more women have a chance of surviving these cancers.

Vulvar Cancer

The vulva is the external, visible part of a woman’s reproductive system, made up of the labia, clitoris, and Bartholin’s glands. Vulvar cancer can affect any part of the vulva. It’s one of the rarest women’s cancers, with around 1000 cases diagnosed every year. VIN and lichen sclerosis can go on to become cancer, so if you have been diagnosed with either of these conditions it’s worth being extra careful. Surgery is usually needed to remove any cancerous cells or tumours.

So what should you look out for?

  • Persistent itchiness and soreness
  • Thick, raised or discoloured patches,
  • A lump or swelling
  • Changed moles

Do you regularly check your vulva? It’s important to understand what your vulva normally looks and feels like, so you can spot any changes early. Get to know the signs and symptoms, and get to know your normal. Using a small handheld mirror can be a great way to really get to know your vulva. Check once or twice a month to look for any changes.

Vaginal Cancer

The rarest of the five gynae cancers, vaginal cancer is usually a type of skin cancer. The vagina is the internal part that leads up towards the cervix and womb. Women over 60, who have had HPV, or been diagnosed with cell abnormalities in the cervix or vagina previously are more likely to develop this rare cancer. Symptoms include

  • Unusual bleeding
  • Pain during sex
  • Persistent vaginal pain
  • Lump inside the vagina

Radiotherapy is the usual treatment, though some women will need surgery to remove part or all of the vagina. Vaginal dryness is a common, often painful side effect of radiotherapy, so keep a gentle, pH friendly lubricant like Sylk at hand to combat any symptoms.

Cervical Cancer

The most preventable of the five gynae cancers, cervical cancer usually affects women in their 30’s, and is mainly caused by the HPV virus. The cervical screening programme here in the UK is estimated to save more than 4000 lives every year, but that number could be higher if all women attended their smear tests regularly. The key is early detection- most cancers are prevented because cell changes are detected during a smear. Cell changes don’t necessarily mean cancer, but they could go on to become cancerous, so the earlier they’re caught and safely (and easily!) removed, the better the chance of preventing them from becoming cancerous.

Symptoms to look out for are

  • Abnormal bleeding e.g. heavier than usual periods, or bleeding between periods
  • Pain or bleeding during sex
  • Unusual or bloody discharge

Many women avoid their smear tests because they find them uncomfortable. If vaginal dryness makes smears uncomfortable or painful, ask your nurse to use a little Sylk on the sides of the speculum to help keep you comfortable. 

Womb Cancer

Every year, 9,300 women are diagnosed with womb cancer, also called uterine or endometrial cancer. It’s more common among postmenopausal women, who usually first notice bleeding which is obviously unusual as periods have usually already stopped. Most women diagnosed with womb cancer will undergo a complete hysterectomy, which in pre-menopausal women will immediately induce menopause. This abrupt shift into menopause can come as a huge shock to women, both emotionally and physically, as they will begin to feel the symptoms of menopause such as vaginal dryness, hot flushes and night sweats, and anxiety straight away.

Women should be on the lookout for

  • Unusually heavy bleeding during a period
  • Unusual or blood stained discharge
  • Bleeding between periods
  • Any bleeding after menopause

Ovarian Cancer

Ovarian cancer is a tricky one. Early signs and symptoms can be mistaken for other less serious conditions such as IBS or PMS, which means the disease is often missed when it is most treatable. Over 7000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer every year. It’s usually treated with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery to remove either the ovaries, or both the ovaries and the womb. It’s most common in postmenopausal women, but can affect women of any age, so it’s important to know what to look out for.

  • Persistent abdominal pain and bloating
  • Sudden prolonged change in bowel habits
  • Feeling full very quickly
  • Nausea

As these symptoms can be mistaken for other less serious issues, it’s important to keep them in mind. If you’re given a diagnosis that just doesn’t feel right, it’s your right to seek a second opinion.

Vaginal Dryness- an unwanted side effect

Sylk on window sill with bottles, flannel and plantVaginal dryness is pretty horrible. It’s itchy, sore, uncomfortable, and can be hugely distracting in your day to day life. It can affect everything from the clothes you can wear, the exercise you can do, to your sex life. So when you’re already juggling cancer treatment, the last thing you need is another painful side effect. Women going through treatments for cancer commonly experience vaginal dryness, but there are simple solutions available. Sylk is hormone and paraben free, and contains no harsh chemicals. It’s pH friendly, safe and gentle, and provides immediate relief from vaginal dryness. It may feel insignificant compared with the reality of a cancer diagnosis. But that’s why we think it’s important to tackle it. Not being bothered by the distraction of vaginal dryness leaves women free to focus on the bigger things; like getting back on your feet. You can order a free sample here.

How can you help?

Every year The Eve Appeal host a 25km trek in the Cotswolds, and this year our very own Nicky and Nicola will be taking part! You can follow their journey on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. In the mean time, if you’d like to give them a boost, you can donate to their Just Giving page here, and Sylk will match your donation.

Please help us to help them- every pound counts!

A word from The Eve Appeal

The Eve Appeal - gynaecology cancer research fund“The Eve Appeal is the only UK national charity raising awareness and funding research into the five gynaecological cancers. Womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal.

We were set up to save women’s lives by funding ground-breaking research focused on developing effective methods of risk prediction, earlier detection and developing screening for these women-only cancers. Our charity has grown and developed in parallel with our core research team, the Department of Women’s Cancer at University College London (UCL), taking place in 31 institutions across 15 countries. We have played a crucial role in providing seed funding, core infrastructure funding and project funding in addition to campaigning to raise awareness of women-specific cancers.

The world-leading research that we fund is ambitious and challenging but our vision is simple: A future where fewer women develop and more women survive gynaecological cancers.”

Ask Eve

Have you or a friend or loved one been affected by gynae cancer? The Eve Appeal run Ask Eve, a nurse led cancer information helpline for women and their families. Whether you’ve received a diagnosis, are worried about a symptom, or are worried about a friend or relative, you can Ask Eve for advice on what to do next.

You can find out more about The Eve Appeal, including how to contact their wonderful Ask Eve information service by visiting their website.

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