Did you know there are five gynaecological cancers? (that’s the cancers inside your pelvis and between your legs). If not, you aren’t alone, awareness of these cancers is shamefully low, and that is the only shameful thing about them. The Eve Appeal is the UK’s leading gynaecological cancer charity, and we are here to raise awareness and fund research for their prevention and earlier detection of these dreadful diseases.
So, the five gynae cancers, what are they? Womb, ovarian, cervical, vulval and vaginal. You may have heard of some of them before, but I bet not all. Over 21,000 people are diagnosed with one of these cancers every year, that’s 60 a day, and sadly 21 of those people die within five years of being diagnosed.
We want everybody to know the signs and symptoms of these disease, yes everybody, men, women, non-binary people, everybody, and not just that, we want everybody to be able to talk about them openly, and without shame. We can only get rid of the embarrassment and the shameful lack of awareness by making a cultural change and breaking down the taboos, and that conversation takes everybody.
The key signs and symptoms for everyone to remember are abnormal bleeding (bleeding between periods, after sex, after the menopause, that is much heavier or more painful than what is normal for you), persistent bloating (that doesn’t come and go), a change to skin on your vulva or inside your vagina e.g., a lump, and an unexpected change in bowel habits.
Some of those symptoms are easier to spot than others, but what is key in protecting yourself from gynae cancers is knowing your body well and what is normal for you. It is only then that you can quickly spot when something changes, something that might need to get checked by a doctor.
You can find more information about gynae health and how to know “your normal” on our website www.eveappeal.org.uk There you'll find information on tracking periods, and how to check your body regularly. You may hopefully already check your breasts or chest, now check your vulva and vagina too.
If you thought, hang on, what is a vulva? The vulva is the external genitalia that you can see between the legs, so that includes the clitoris, the labia (small and large), the opening to the urethra (where you wee from). The vagina is just the internal canal that connects your vulva to your cervix (where periods and maybe babies come out, and tampons/menstrual cups may go in).
So once a month, or more regularly (why not?!), check your vulva with a mirror, get to know what it looks like, feels like, smells like, what your discharge is like (yes, we said it, discharge). Then you are in a great place to spot if something changes and go and get checked by a doctor.
If you spot a change, it is more than likely something far less serious than cancer, but it is always important to get checked, just in case. As with all cancers, finding it as soon as possible makes a huge difference, and preventing it from happening altogether, that’s the best possible outcome!
If you are worried about any symptoms, don’t hesitate in getting them checked out. It is still so important to call your GP with any worries or reach out to our Ask Eve nurse-led information service. You can call us on 0808 802 0019 - which is free to call from landlines and mobile phones - or get in touch via email email@example.com
Written by Hilary Maxwell, Ask Eve Cancer Information nurse with the Eve Appeal.