Article by the Eve Appeal
Despite gynaecological cancers being the second most common cancer among women in the UK and the world’s fourth biggest cancer killer, new research from gynaecological cancer research charity The Eve Appeal, today shows an alarming lack of awareness about the significance of identifying early signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancers.
Research from an Eve Appeal survey demonstrated that nearly three quarters of women (71%) have experienced a symptom which may be associated with gynaecological cancer, whilst a YouGov survey showed that nearly a fifth (19%) of women would wait 4 weeks or more before visiting a health professional about the main symptom associated with all gynaecological cancers – irregular vaginal bleeding. Furthermore nearly one in ten (8%) women would wait 4 weeks or more before seeking help for a lump or growth in the vagina and 5% of women say they would not visit a health professional at all for this symptom. This pattern is familiar across all the symptoms of gynaecological cancer.
Symptoms not thought to be ‘serious enough’
The most common reason for delaying seeking help is deeming symptoms ‘not serious enough’ – quite shockingly, a third (33%) of women give this as a reason; a figure which rises to a staggering 52% of women aged 16-24 and 45% of women aged 25-39. Embarrassment also plays its role in preventing women seeking advice at an early stage – an issue which needs to be addressed – with 18% saying they worry that they’d be seen by a male health professional.
Delaying seeking advice for signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer, even by a few weeks, can have ‘significant consequences for women’ says Adeola Olaitan, Consultant Gynaecological Oncologist at UCL Hospital. “Instead of having ‘limited surgery for a small cancer, women may have to undergo more invasive and complicated procedures. Furthermore treatment of advanced disease is less likely to be successful and the chances of complications may be higher.”
The Eve Appeal have today launched a specialist nurse-led gynaecological cancer information service – Ask Eve. Delivered via confidential telephone and email support, those that are worried by, or are at increased risk of developing symptoms of gynaecological cancer are encouraged to Ask Eve as a first port of call if they’re delaying seeking help from a health professional. The service will also provide information to women with gynaecological cancer.
Women know their own bodies
The Eve Appeal’s gynaecological cancer nurse specialist Tracie Miles, who will lead the service says:
“In my role as a gynaecological cancer nurse specialist in the NHS, I increasingly see patients who ignore or downplay symptoms of gynaecological cancer such as unexplained vaginal bleeding or changes in vaginal or vulval skin.
“Women know their own bodies better than anyone else so my advice to them is: trust your instinct and if you are experiencing anything unusual then Ask Eve. The service is free and confidential and no question is a daft or embarrassing question.”
Natalie Percival, President of the National Forum Gynaecology-Oncology Nurses adds:
“Ask Eve will fill a big gap in information around some of the gynaecological cancers – especially womb cancer. As a specialist nurse, I know that women need an expert source of information to turn to when they have worries about gynaecological signs and symptoms. Awareness of gynaecological cancers is very low and often women ignore worrying symptoms before getting advice from a medical professional. This is why an information service that provides up to date information and that makes it easier for a woman seeking help is a great addition to the support that’s currently available.”
The new research from women’s gynaecological cancer charity The Eve Appeal is even more worrying in light of the rising rates of one of the ‘lesser known’ gynaecological cancers – womb cancer – with deaths from womb cancer set to rise 56% by 2030.
Athena Lamnisos, CEO of The Eve Appeal says: “Unfortunately the statistics around gynaecological cancers make for grim reading and until we can improve early diagnosis, we are unlikely to be able to dramatically improve incident and survival rates.
“Our research shows that there is so much more to do to raise awareness of the signs and symptoms of gynaecological cancer and to remind women that delaying seeking expert information and advice is not the smart thing to do. That’s where Ask Eve comes in.”