Gynaecological cancers are cancers of the female reproductive system. These include ovarian and fallopian tube cancers, cervical cancer, endometrial cancer (cancer of the uterus) and cancer of the vulva and vagina. Although they are a common cancer in our community there are still many misconsceptions, misunderstandings and important conversations to be had about gynaecological cancer. In Australia on average 13 women are diagnosed with gynaecological cancer every day and 4 will pass away. However early detection can reduce the risks associated and improve chances of survival.
The only screening test for gynaecological cancers is for cervical cancer – the Pap smear. It does not test for any other cancer.
There are simple measures you can take to help identify symptoms of gynaecological cancer:
- Know your family health history and be aware of gynaecological cancer symptoms
- Know and listen to your body
- Take control of your health, talk to your GP if you notice any irregular body changes.
Symptoms of gynaecological cancers can include:
- abnormal or persistent vaginal bleeding
- unusual vaginal discharge
- pain, pressure or discomfort in the abdomen
- swelling of the abdomen
- change in bowel or bladder habits
- pain during intercourse
- vaginal itching, burning or soreness
- lumps, sores or wart-like growths.
These symptoms can depend on where the tumour is situated, the size of the tumour and how quickly it is growing. Not all symptoms these symptoms by themselves mean gynaecological cancer is certain but if they continue you should see your doctor and be thoroughly checked. Above all, it is important that you know your own body and talk to a doctor if something doesn’t feel right.
A risk factor is any factor associated with an increased chance of developing a particular health condition. Some of these factors for gynaecological cancers include:
- increasing age
- having a strong family history
- identified gene mutations
- reproductive history such as child-bearing
- exposure to hormones – produced by the body or taken as medication
- exposure to diethylstilbestrol (DES) in the womb
- viral infection such as human papilloma virus (HPV)
- lifestyle factors such as smoking and those leading to excess body weight
In saying this, it should be noted that having a particular risk factor does not mean a woman will develop a gynaecological cancer. Many women have at least one risk factor but will never develop a gynaecological cancer, while others may get a gynaecological cancer with no known risk factors. Even if a woman with a gynaecological cancer has a risk factor, it is usually hard to know the level to which it may have contributed to the development of her disease.
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