We’ve come a long way as a society since women were treated for hysteria and since labour was the most dangerous thing for a woman because doctors didn’t have the necessary understanding of the female reproductive system. Even in our day and age, however, bikini medicine is costing women their lives and even when we do recognise a danger for women’s health, regular screening, symptom awareness and timely treatments don’t reach enough women. 

Gynaecological cancer is not simply cervical cancer as a direct result of HPV and women who have been vaccinated are not necessarily out of the woods. It’s estimated that this year 33 000 women will die from one of the 5 types of cancer under the umbrella of gynaecological cancer. In order to shift the statistics, we need to raise awareness about the symptoms and risk factors, so more women can receive treatment at an early stage when the disease can be stopped in its tracks. 

We at FindMeCure have always been passionate about women’s health, so today we’d like to start a discussion about the 5 types of gynaecological cancer: uterine, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer. We want you to be vigilant about screening if you belong to a risk group and mindful of anything that might be out of the ordinary for your body. Some of the symptoms can be easily misdiagnosed, so insisting on screening is the best way to advocate for your health. 

Uterine cancer

Uterine cancer is the most commonly diagnosed out the five kinds of gynaecological cancer and it’s the 4th most common cancer in women. However, regular screening is not a common practice and your doctor might not warn you about the risk factors such as age (women over the age of 50 are at greater risk as they-re often post-menopausal), obesity, taking solely estrogen as a hormone replacement (if the amount of estrogen increases but the amount of progesterone stays the same, this hormonal disbalance can affect the endometrial tissue) as well as heredity. Women who have family members with a history of uterine, ovarian or even colon cancer are at a greater risk of developing uterine cancer themselves. If you belong to a risk group, screening around the beginning of menopause should be a priority. 

Symptoms to look out for include vaginal bleeding between periods, bleeding after menopause, pelvic pain. However, you don’t have to wait until you experience any of these symptoms to begin screening. If anything feels ‘off’ and is not typical for your body, you should seek a medical opinion.

Ovarian cancer

Ovarian cancer is rare compared to the other types of cancer listed here, yet it’s mortality rate is the highest according to the Americal Cancer Society. The reason? While ovarian cancer can be successfully treated when caught early, few women are diagnosed at this early stage. 

If a woman doesn’t experience any symptoms, it’s very unlikely that her doctor will recommend regular screening. At the same time, however, symptoms of ovarian cancer can be easily misdiagnosed: abdominal bloating, feeling full more quickly than usual when eating, weight loss, pelvic discomfort, constipation, frequent urination. All of these symptoms can as well be symptoms of other diseases or be explained away with a lifestyle change. 

Be mindful of risk factors and insist on screening if you belong to a high-risk group. Ovarian cancer is most common in women aged 50-60, those who have a family history of ovarian and even breast cancer, women of estrogen hormone replacement therapy, a long duration of fertility – beginning menstruation at an early age or starting menopause later in life.

Cervical cancer

Cervical cancer is the most discussed one out of the 5 with HPV being a huge topic when it comes to STIs prevention and vaccination starting early on. And there’s a reason for it as the majority of cervical cancers occur as a direct result of HPV. it’s important to note that not every woman who has been diagnosed with HPV will develop cervical cancer. However, in case you belong to a high-risk group – diagnosed with HPV or never been vaccinated – regular screening is strongly recommended so that initial changes in healthy tissue can be detected and treatment can begin. 

There has been research as to whether vaccination is as effective after a person has started their sexual life as well as the effects of the vaccine on someone who has been diagnosed with HPV. Some researchers are even looking into the effects of a pap smear on the HPV infection and finding suggest that regular screening can in some cases trigger the body’s immune response against the infection. Of course, more research is needed but one thing is clear – regular pap smears can and do save lives. 

Vaginal and vulvar cancer

Both rare types of cancer that could also occur as a result of an HPV infection. The HPV vaccine can be effective in the prevention of both of these types of cancer. However, in rare cases vaginal and especially vulvar cancer have nothing to do with the infection. You should be aware of the symptoms and never forget to schedule regular appointments with your gynaecologist. 

Symptoms to look out for include unusual vaginal bleeding, watery discharge, painful or frequent urination, constipation, pelvic pain and/or discomfort, vulvar itching that doesn’t go away and is not the result of a common infection, tenderness in the area, a change in colour or texture, a lump, bumps or an open sore. Being familiar with how your vulva looks and feels is crucial in determining whether some abnormal changes are taking place – after all, how can you know what is abnormal for you if you don’t know what is normal to begin with. During regular examinations, your doctor should be able to detect changes but it’s your responsibility too to know your body and report anything you find concerning. 

Risk factors that are within your control are smoking and safe sex practices. However, you should also be aware that with increasing age, the risk of developing vaginal cancer also increases – most women diagnosed with it are over the age of 60, so it’s important to take care of your gynaecological health even after your reproductive years are behind you. 

Clinical researchers are working every day on finding better ways to screen for diseases, so we can detect them very early on and begin treatment as soon as possible. You can take part in a clinical trial investigating novel treatments for early-stage cancers or research looking into ground-breaking ways to deter or predict future mutations and abnormalities. If donating your time to science in such a way is not the right commitment for you, then spread awareness about gynaecological cancer by sharing this article and educating the women in your life on the risk factors and symptoms to look out for.

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